Did you know that even moderate alcohol consumption is linked to increased risk of breast cancer?

Oh gosh, it is January 3rd already!  Did you finish 2014 with too much celebrating on New Year’s Eve?  I hope not!  Yes, New Years is a special occasion … and “responsible drinking” is always a good idea!

In the world of cancer, “responsible drinking” equals “no drinking”.   I know that sounds extreme but it is the conclusion reached in the 2014 World Cancer Report  issued by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research in Cancer.  This is true for breast cancer … and several other cancers.

This huge report is actually a 630 page book.  It is the global authority on the subject.  The WHO (World Health Organization) declared alcohol as a carcinogen in 1988.  Back then it was specifically in relation to cancer of the esophagus.  Since then, it has been verified with absolute certainty that alcohol consumption can cause several other cancers.  The list of cancers that fall into this group are:  breast, liver, colon, rectum, esophagus, pharynx, larynx and mouth.  Cancers like pancreatic, renal (kidney) and many others are found to be associated with alcohol use but not necessarily caused by alcohol use.

OK, so alcohol causes breast and other cancers.  What about “light drinking”?  According to the report, the research team looked at 222 studies with 92,000 light drinkers and 60,000 non-drinkers.  Light drinking was associated with breast, esophageal, mouth and pharynx.  So, actually, with breast cancer, even light alcohol consumption increases our risk.

Now, please don’t think that alcohol is the only thing that can cause those various cancers.  It is a modifiable behavioral cause, but certainly not the only cause.  Heck, I’m a great example.  As an ER doc I’ve seen the impact of alcohol use and abuse.  That would be a turn-off by itself.  I am and always have been a total light-weight when it comes to alcohol. Half a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve, a wine spritzer twice a year, and that’s about it!  And, with that … I was diagnosed with breast cancer over 20 years ago! So, in my case, I am confident that alcohol did not play a part in my diagnosis.  Other things that I had control over definitely did play a part in the issue.  These “modifiable behavioral risk factors” included diet, sleep and stress management  ….  to name a few.

When it comes to heart disease, not cancer, there is good data that light to moderate alcohol intake (preferably red wine) is good for the heart.  Many of my patients drink a glass or two of red wine with dinner on a regular basic  …. with my blessing.

In summary:
●   any intake of alcohol increases the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis  .. and some other cancers too
●   a small amount of alcohol daily can have health benefits for your heart
●   all our decisions come with consequences

So, what to do?  You’ve heard it from me before  … be aware and use good judgment.  It’s a New Year!  We’ll make lots of decisions  … some good  … some not so much.  Oh, the adventure of life!

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