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Sunday, October 23, 2011

"A" is For Alcohol

It’s talked about in women’s magazines and on the television and radio, but it isn’t really news. Like the fact that smoking can cause lung cancer, the fact that there is a relationship between women drinking alcohol and breast cancer has existed for some time now. As with smoking, it takes a while to open everyone’s eyes about how dangerous playing with that weekend cigarette or that second or third drink in one day can really be. Will we have to resort to pictures of mastectomies on wine bottles to get the point across? Hopefully not.
The number of breast cancer cases has been rising sharply, possibly due to the amount of Baby Boomers approaching or being in menopause. All those hormone levels fluctuating. The majority of breast cancers are fed by hormones like estrogen or progesterone. When I read this, I thought, “Bingo!” I had been peri-menopausal for months, meaning my periods were becoming unreliable in length, timing and appearance. I used to think PMS was bad. This next phase had me humming like a mental patient. Nothing was right in my life. My friends all drove me crazy, my husband intentionally, I was sure, did everything wrong and the entire world was stacked against me. It was easy to slip into drinking three glasses of wine in one evening. It happened lots. On weekends, there were glasses of wine at lunch. More at the lounge after skiing, then more with dinner and socializing. Little did I know they were fueling a cancer that had decided to grow within my breast.
I have since discovered:

From Wikipedia:

Alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer in women.[3][12]
A study of more than one million middle-aged British women concluded that each daily alcoholic beverage increases the incidence of breast cancer by 11 cases per 1000 women.[13] This means that among a group of 1000 women who have one drink per day, they will have 11 extra cases of breast cancer when compared to a group of women who drink less than one alcoholic beverage per week; a group of 1000 women who have four drinks per day will have an extra 44 cases of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers. One or two drinks each day increases the relative risk to 150% of normal, and six drinks per day increases the risk to 330% of normal. 

Alcohol may contribute to breast cancer in a number of ways. One of its metabolic byproducts, acetaldehyde, is thought to be carcinogenic. Alcohol may also boost blood estrogen levels, which can feed cancer growth.
As well, alcohol may inhibit the ability of cells to repair faulty genes and make breast cells more vulnerable to carcinogens.
What’s recommended? A maximum of three alcoholic drinks a week for women, seven to fourteen for men. While a glass of wine a day may decrease the risk of heart disease, another major killer of women, there are better ways to lower the bad cholesterols or LDLs in your blood that can cause a plaque build-up. We’re talking about those 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day again, eating 100% whole grains and low or no-fat dairy and meats. Getting exercise a minimum of three times a week. Getting rest, drinking water. These all contribute to ensuring you don’t have to mess with disease.
The worst of the bad news is for women who have already been through breast cancer. For them, playing with any alcohol can be detrimental, especially if they have a hormone-fed type of cancer (ie: estrogen or progesterone). I found this from a Dr. Ruddy’s blog at
It states:
Alcohol and estrogen are both metabolized in the liver using similar biochemical pathways.  So if the liver is busy clearing alcohol from the bloodstream, estrogen levels will rise as they wait their turn through the liver.
Therefore, women who drink regularly, like every day, will have chronically elevated levels of estrogen circulating in their bloodstream.  And since estrogen is the equivalent of light, sweet crude for the breast cancer engine, it’s easy to see why regular alcohol consumption is directly linked to an increased risk for breast cancer.  In fact, there does not appear to be any “safe” level of alcohol use:  even 1/2 glass of wine per day increases the risk for breast cancer.
Avoid alcohol if you want to avoid breast cancer.
The preponderance of data confirms that drinking alcohol on a regular basis increases the risk for breast cancer by approximately 40%.  Therefore, my advice is to drink only occasionally and in moderation.  
Alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer, specifically estrogen-positive breast cancer.  Furthermore, in women with estrogen-positive breast cancer, drinking alcohol increases the risk of a new cancer in the opposite breast a jaw-dropping90%.
Avoid alcohol – save it for special occasions.
If you have estrogen-positive breast cancer, avoid it like the plague.
And, please, take and stay the course with your anti-estrogen medication

Whew…Scary stuff! I would question the numbers Dr. Ruddy rattled off- they seem liberally high, but the point is, do you want to take the risk that she is dead -on or not?
Drinking alcohol is a personal choice, one I chose each and every time. Now that I’ve seen where that choice has led me, I am going to treat it like the game of Russian Roulette that it is.
As I’ve said before, cancer is one big lottery. We all have a ticket just by being born. And like with any lottery, the more tickets you have, the better your chance of “winning.”
If you smoke, you have yourself another ticket for cancer. Drink? Get another one. Bad diet, avoid exercise, over-weight and don’t care? Come and get your tickets.
For me, winning once was enough. I’m going to do everything I can not to do it again.