Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. If you’re a woman, you have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. At our Fairfax practice, board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Hess has helped many women reconstruct their breasts following mastectomy—an experience that has led him to explore the causes of breast cancer. In this month’s blog, Dr. Hess examines one such risk factor: alcohol.
Does alcohol provide any health benefits?
For decades, the popular rhetoric surrounding drinking has been that a drink or two a day won’t hurt you, and may even provide some health benefits. This notion stemmed from “the French paradox”—clinical observations showing that while the French drank lots of wine and ate a diet rich in saturated fat, they still had lower rates of heart disease than Americans.
Proponents of this pro-alcohol message also claim that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce one’s risk of diabetes, lower inflammation, and even extend lifespan.
Even just one drink per day may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
But while the “glass or two a day” message may have been the norm even just a few years ago, an increasing amount of government officials and medical professionals are now suggesting that even moderate drinking can increase one’s risk of developing health issues, including liver disease, depression, and—you guessed it—breast cancer.
Does alcohol increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer?
The science clearly shows that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer:
- More than 100 observational studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol intake.
- A recent meta-data study published in The Lancet concluded that the optimal number of drinks to consume per day to minimize overall health risks is zero. It also found that levels of alcohol previously thought to be relatively harmless are now linked to a shorter lifespan.
- The World Health Organization warns that a woman’s risk of breast cancer increases by 50% when drinking 4 glasses of wine per day, and by 130% when drinking 8 glasses per day.
In addition to breast cancer, alcohol can increase a woman’s risk of developing head, neck, liver, esophageal, and colorectal cancers.
How can alcohol cause breast cancer?
There are a few ways alcohol is thought to cause breast cancer in women:
- When alcohol is metabolized in the body, it produces acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product and probable carcinogen. While acetaldehyde’s effects on the liver are widely documented (sclerosis and fatty liver disease, to name a few), it can also damage breast cells and tissues
- Alcohol can increase estrogen in women, a hormone associated with the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol can increase the amount of folic acid in a woman’s system, which can lead to increased breast cancer risk.
Is red wine healthy?
But wait—isn’t wine healthier than other types of alcohol? The evidence here is mixed:
- Wine (via the skin and seeds of grapes used to make it) contains a naturally occurring antioxidant called resveratrol, which may protect your cells from damage that could lead to cancer. However, whether or not resveratrol can protect women against breast cancer is still unknown.
- Numerous studies have found a correlation between drinking a glass of red wine a day and a reduced risk of heart disease.
What about drinking a glass a day?
What about drinking just a glass or two a day? Unfortunately, there is no lower threshold for alcohol consumption when it comes to avoiding breast cancer, meaning that any amount of alcohol increases its risk. The good news is that this same relationship applies in reverse: any reduction in alcohol consumption reduces a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
To drink or not to drink? Our takeaway.
While the potential health benefits of alcohol remain to be proven, its damaging effects are well documented. Accordingly, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans committee continues to lower the number of daily drinks considered to be “safe” for both men and women (currently one drink for women and two drinks for men).
Ultimately, if you choose to drink, we suggest you do so in moderation and on occasion. If you drink regularly, remember that making the effort to reduce your consumption can notably reduce your chances of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Trust Fairfax plastic surgeon Dr. Hess with your breast surgery
Whether you’re seeking breast reconstruction following a mastectomy or you’re interested in reshaping or enhancing your breasts, board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Christopher L. Hess has the skill and experience necessary to help you achieve beautiful breast results. Find out why Dr. Hess has been named a Top Plastic Surgeon by Northern VA Mag for 8 years—contact us online or call (703) 752-6608 to schedule your Fairfax breast surgery consultation today.