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Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a major cause of mortality amongst women, and individual risk varies according to hereditary genes. Cancer Research UK estimates that alcohol accounts for approximately 4% of breast cancers in the developed world and that one in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Over the past 10 years, the incidence of breast cancer has remained unchanged, although mortality rates have steadily decreased, due to earlier detection and more effective therapy.

What the experts say...

“Alcohol intake…is likely to account, at present, for a small proportion of breast cancer cases in developed countries, but for women who drink moderately, its lifetime cardio-protective effects probably outweigh its health hazards.” Silva MD

A UK study by Sir Richard Doll observed that women consuming the equivalent of 1-2 drinks (5-14 g total) per day had an overall increase in risk of 3% of developing breast cancer. This rises to a 32% increase in breast cancer risk for women drinking 35-44 g alcohol/day and a 46% increase for women drinking more. This is much more alcohol than the UK low risk guidelines of 14 units of 8g per week.

Studies also show that adequate intake of folate (found in green leaf vegetables, brown bread and cereals as well as in supplement form), may protect women against an increase in breast cancer risk from moderate alcohol consumption.

Balancing the risks and benefits of moderate alcohol drinking, women over 40 should remember that the protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption on coronary heart disease and stroke are significant, and that in women, cardiovascular diseases (19%) are associated with four times the number of deaths compared with breast cancer (4% deaths UK).

When set in context by the American Heart Association, heart disease is a far greater killer: 'One in two women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke: one in twenty five will eventually die of breast cancer'.

Accordingly, women who are light-to-moderate drinkers tend to live longer than non-drinkers, but there is a significant increase in cancer risk if you regularly drink at levels of above 30g intake of alcohol/day (that's three drinks).

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