Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is New Zealand’s third most common cancer, accounting for more than 600 deaths every year and is the most common cancer in women.

Northland DHB promotion advisor Dave Hookway points out “What many women are not aware of is alcohol adds to their risk of getting breast cancer,” says Mr Hookway.

Research shows if you drink more than one glass of an alcoholic drink every day, you will increase your risk by approximately 10% for each additional drink per day. Alcohol affects the way oestrogen is metabolised in a woman; oestrogen levels are increased.

To reduce oestrogen levels, and therefore your risk, alcohol free days are recommended. You need to watch your alcohol intake and try and limit it.

“I encourage organisers of activities to raise money for Breast Cancer charities to take the opportunity to become alcohol-free and explain why they have chosen to do so,” he adds.

Current safer drinking guidelines recommended by the Health Promotion Agency for women in New Zealand are:

  • No more than two standard drinks per day – AND at least two alcohol-free days per week;
  • No more than four standard drinks on any single occasion;
  • No alcohol if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

Safer drinking guidelines are based on a 100ml glass of normal strength wine or one can of regular beer as being one standard drink.

Women can decrease the risk of developing breast cancer by exercising and eating well.  Research has shown that eating at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day and walking briskly for 30 minutes, six days a week, decreases women’s chances of getting breast cancer by half.

“Regular exercise appears to have remarkable protective effects on both physical and psychological health,” says Mr Hookway.

The advice, then, if you are a female drinker, is not to panic but to drink sensibly - if you cut down on alcohol you can reduce your risk.

“If you are concerned about your own drinking or that of another person, phone the free Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800-787-797.

Learn how you can reduce your risk of breast cancer through lifestyle choices. We don't know what causes breast cancer but certain factors, like alcohol, can increase your risk.

We can't control some of the risk factors for breast cancer, like being an older woman or having a close family history of the disease, however there are some risk factors with a direct link to breast cancer that we can influence.

Free mammograms (breast x-rays) are available for eligible women aged 45 - 69 years through the National Breast Screening Programme.  Screening mammograms detect breast cancer before you can feel or notice anything unusual.

Risk factors we can’t change:
  1. Being a woman over 50
  2. Family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
  3. Previous breast issues (breast cancer in the past, pre-cancerous breast conditions such as ductal carcinoma insitu (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma insitu (LCIS) or benign breast disease such as atypical hyperplasia
  4. Dense breast tissue
  5. Radiation treatment to the chest when younger
  6. Hormonal factors (early menarche (first period), late menopause)

Things we can do to lower the risk of breast cancer:
  1. Drink less or no alcohol. Alcohol interferes with estrogen levels and therefore raises estrogen levels in the body.
  2. Exercise often, 3-5 times a week as it provides a protective factor through assisting maintaining a healthy body weight
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight especially after menopause
  4. Reduce combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use, especially if used over a long period of time. Women requiring combined HRT should contact their doctor who can assess their personal risk. It is also recommended that women also tell their mammographer if they are using combined HRT as it may increase breast density.
  5. Having children at an earlier age and breastfeeding both reduce oestrogen production

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