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What Is the Link Between Drinking and Breast Cancer?

A major review of more than 100 studies found a disturbing connection between drinking and breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women.
What Is the Link Between Drinking and Breast Cancer?
Cropped shot of dark skinned female touching glass of red wine with both hands selective focus on drink. Black woman with Afro hairstyle sitting at bar smiling waiting for friend to join her later

Women who want to avoid breast cancer should go easy on the alcohol, according to a new report. What’s the connection between drinking and breast cancer?

A Collaborative Review of Drinking and Breast Cancer:

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund collaborated on a systematic review of 119 studies. There were 12 million women included in the analysis.

The Findings:

One drink a day, equivalent to one beer or a small glass of wine, raised the risk of breast cancer by roughly 5 percent in pre-menopausal women and 9 percent in post-menopausal women. Though no one is sure exactly why there is a connection between drinking and breast cancer, the connection is consistent and troubling.

Exercise Lowers the Risk of Breast Cancer:

Exercise, on the other hand, lowered the risk for developing breast cancer. Pre-menopausal women who were very active reduced their risk of breast cancer by 17 percent. Post-menopausal women who exercised vigorously lowered their risk by 10 percent.

World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer. 2017. 

Previous Research Supports the Benefits of Exercise:

This is not the first time a study has shown that physical activity can help protect a woman from breast cancer. Back in 2012, a study of more than 3,000 women enrolled in the Long Island Breast Cancer Study found that regular physical activity reduced the risk of breast cancer by about 30% (McCullough et al, Cancer, Oct. 1, 2012).

Regular exercise, between 10 and 19 hours a week, during childbearing years reduced the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by one third. But even women who didn’t start exercising until menopause were less likely to develop breast cancer than their sedentary peers. The message: it’s never too late to start moving.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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