Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk

There is evidence that alcohol consumption increases risk of breast cancer, but by how much? How many drinks are safely consumed without increasing risk? Dr. Harness responds to a Harvard University study about alcohol and breast cancer risk below.

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Jay K. Harness, MD, FACS: I am often asked the question whether consumption of alcohol is a risk factor for developing breast cancer. The answer is yes it is.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association published the week of November 2, 2011 there is an important article from Harvard University on this very subject. Now this subject has been studied a fair amount through the years but I think this is one of the more comprehensive studies to be published.

On our website we will have a video linked to the author of the study and she goes through a lot of the details of the study. But the bottom line of the study is that if you consume somewhere between three to six drinks per week, you have an increased risk of breast cancer of approximately 15%.

Now the average person, without other risk factors, has a chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime somewhere between 10% and 12%. So this additional 15% of 10-12% is not a huge jump but in fact it is an increased risk factor.

Now the dilemma is that we know some of the benefits of, as an example, red wine. So how do we balance the benefits of red wine consumption to lower the instance of heart disease against the increased risk of breast cancer for consuming let’s say three to six glasses of wine per week.

And the answer is you really need to consult with your primary care physician, because we have to take into account other risk factors that may be in your history such as family history, being overweight, cigarette smoking, never having babies.

So there are multitude of risk factors that go into the development of breast cancer. We have to always remember we don’t know the exact cause of breast cancer, but we need to keep in mind that the consumption of alcohol between three to six drinks per week is an increased risk factor, and we also need to keep in mind that less than three drinks per week has no increased risk of breast cancer.

What’s the take-home message for you? Know what your risk factors are. Consult with your primary care physician. If they are not the answers you can get from that source, then consult with a breast disease specialist where you live.


SUPPORTIVE LINKS: Moderate Alcohol Consumption During Adult Life, Drinking Patterns, and Breast Cancer Risk

Dr. Jay K. Harness is a board certified surgeon currently treating patients at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA. Dr. Harness specializes in complete breast health, breast cancer surgery, oncoplastic reconstruction, genetic screening, management of breast health issues, risk assessment and counseling. Dr. Harness is the medical director for Breast Cancer, and guides this first ever social media show’s information by drawing on his former leadership experience as the President of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and Breast Surgery International. Dr. Harness graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1969 and spent time early on in his career at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

This information should not be relied upon as a substitute for personal medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use the information provided on this site solely at your own risk.  If you have any concerns about your health, please consult with a physician.