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New Report: One Alcoholic Drink a Day Increases Risk of Breast Cancer

A major comprehensive and up-to-date report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found strong evidence that drinking just one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

In addition, for the first time, this report also revealed that vigorous exercise — like fast bicycling and running — decreases the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancers.

breast cancer risk

New Report on Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.  There are more than 252,000 new cases estimated this year.

According to American Institute for Cancer Research estimates, one in three breast cancer cases in the U.S. could be prevented if women did not drink alcohol, maintained a healthy weight, and were physically active.

Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, a lead author of this new report and cancer prevention expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, commented about their new findings.

“With this comprehensive and up-to-date report the evidence is clear: Having a physically active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life and limiting alcohol — these are all steps women can take to lower their risk.”

The report substantiated that drinking as little as a small glass of beer or wine each day (about 10 grams alcohol content) increases pre-menopausal breast cancer risk by five percent and post-menopausal breast cancer risk by 9 percent.

Additional Findings

In this first review since 2010, researchers systematically gathered and evaluated the scientific research worldwide on how exercise, weight, and diet affect breast cancer risk. The report analyzed 119 studies — including data on 12 million women and 260,000 cases of breast cancer.

With regards to vigorous exercise, compared to women who were the least active, pre-menopausal women who were the most active had a 17 percent lower risk.  In addition, post-menopausal women had a 10 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Furthermore, total moderate activity, like gardening and walking, related to a 13 percent lower risk versus least active women.

More on this latest report:

  • Greater adult weight gain increases risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.
  • Mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk for breast cancer.
  • Being obese or overweight increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.

Promising Findings Related to Diet

This all-inclusive, wide-ranging report also finds a link between diet and breast cancer risk.

Although somewhat limited, there was additional evidence that non-starchy vegetables lowers risk for estrogen-receptor negative breast cancers, a more challenging to treat and less common type of tumor.

Limited evidence also associates foods containing carotenoids, diets high in calcium, and dairy to lowering risk of some breast cancers.  Kale, spinach, apricots, and carrots, are types of food high in carotenoids.

According to Dr. McTiernan, more research is needed with regards to these intriguing links.

“The findings indicate that women may get some benefit from including more non-starchy vegetables with high variety, including foods that contain carotenoids. That can also help avoid the common 1 to 2 pounds women are gaining every year, which is key for lowering cancer risk.”

Women Can Take These Steps

There’s little doubt that lifestyle has a major impact on risk factors of developing breast cancer.  However, other established causes of breast cancer include having a family history of breast cancer, early menstrual period, and being older.

Even though there may be many factors women can’t control, Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Head of Nutrition Programs says there’s good news from this report.

The good news is that all women can take steps to lower their breast cancer risk.

“Wherever you are with physical activity, try to nudge it up a bit, either a little longer or a little harder. Make simple food shifts to boost protection — substitute veggies like carrots, bell peppers or green salad for chips and crackers and if you drink alcohol, stick to a single drink or less.”

The latest report is part of the American Institute for Cancer Research’s Continuous Update Project, which monitors and analyzes research on cancer prevention from around the world and draws conclusions on how weight, diet and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing cancer.

When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees.  But it’s important to know that all women can do something to help in lowering their risk of developing breast cancer.


Featured image courtesy of Maf04 via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC-BY-SA-2.0


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