Alcohol: The Breast Cancer Risk in a Bottle

Regular consumption of alcohol can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Can drinking alcohol cause breast cancer? That’s the question multiple experts, research teams, scientists, and medical oncologists have set out to answer. And what they’ve found might surprise you.

When most people think about the adverse effects of alcohol consumption, things like cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholism, and DUIs tend to stand out. Breast cancer is likely not one of the front-runners, even though a number of medical studies have established a link between the two.

Linking Alcohol and Breast Cancer

A Look at the Science According to data obtained through several epidemiological studies, including published research from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, the more alcohol you consume, the higher your risk of breast cancer.
The overall risk is based on how much you drink on average each day over a lifetime.

Alcohol, on its own, is not solely responsible for the incidence of breast cancer. However, abusing alcohol on a regular basis does place you at a higher risk of developing the disease.

A massive research study conducted by Oxford University and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that increasing alcohol intake by as little as one extra glass of wine, beer or hard liquor a day can increase a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer.

The Role of Alcohol

Though experts don’t yet know exactly why alcohol increases the chances of developing breast cancer, they have been able to pinpoint a few possible reasons. Firstly, alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other female hormones associated with breast cancer. Alcohol may also increase the breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells, triggering a response from the body to develop cancerous cells.

Compared to women who don’t drink at all, females who consume three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10 percent for each additional drink women regularly have each day.

Points to RememberIt’s important to put this information into context. Though alcohol consumption isn’t the only factor that increases the development of breast cancer, an ounce of prevention can make the difference of a lifetime.Keep in mind:

  • Drinking alcohol does not mean you will get breast cancer; it means your risk of developing the disease goes up.
  • Experts agree it’s the amount of alcohol you regularly drink that ultimately increases the breast cancer risk.
  • If you regularly drink, keep consumption within or below the U.S. dietary guidelines, defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.


If you or someone you know struggles with binge drinking, learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment options for alcohol abuse.

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