A recent study done on a very large group of European women has confirmed what we have known for years — alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer.
The study, which was published in the International Journal of Cancer, recruited 334,000 women between the ages of 35 and 70 from 10 European countries and followed them for an average of 11 years. The study has confirmed that alcohol is a carcinogenic, and the risk of breast cancer increases with each drink daily.
The study also concluded that the effects of alcohol were similar in both hormone-receptor-positive and hormone-receptor-negative tumors.
What is Hormone Receptor Status?
The hormone receptor status of the tumor refers to a breast cancer cell having a receptor on its surface that binds to estrogen.
“I tell my patients it’s as if the cell has a satellite dish that can receive signals from estrogen. If a cell does not have the satellite dish for estrogen, then it cannot be stimulated by estrogen. If the cell does have a receptor for estrogen, then we can alter the cell’s growth by either decreasing the production of estrogen, or modify the receptor (with medication such as Tamoxifen), and therefore decrease the effect of estrogen.”
It is believed that alcohol and estrogen have the same degradation pathways, meaning that they need the same enzymes to break them down. Thus when alcohol is present, it uses the same enzymes needed to break down estrogen, and when estrogen cannot be broken down, its levels increase.
According to Dr. Beth DuPree, the Medical Director of the Integrative and Holistic Medicine at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Philadelphia, this might be the mechanism that increases the risk of breast cancer when alcohol consumption is present.
Is There a Right Amount?
Eliminating alcohol completely is one alternative. If that is not an option, moderation is key. According to DuPree, women should make individual and educated choices based on their risk factors.