While heavy alcohol consumption is commonly associated with liver disease and liver cancer, it is also linked to increased risks of breast cancer in women. Women who engage in moderate to severe drinking are likelier to develop breast cancer from elevated estrogen levels, acetaldehyde (AA), oxidative stress, and altered nutrient absorption in the body.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Women
Breast cancer risk in women is affected by a combination of factors, including genetics, family history, and lifestyle habits. While some of the factors contributing to breast cancer risks are unchangeable, others can be modified and altered through healthy habits and lifestyle changes.
Unchangeable Factors Linked to Breast Cancer Risk
Breast cancer risk increases with age, which is why most women receive diagnosis after the age of 50. Women with genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at higher risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer. If a woman has already had breast cancer once, they are more likely to get breast cancer a second time than someone who hasn’t. Women with a mother, sister, daughter, or other family members who have or had breast cancer are also at an increased risk for developing breast cancer at some point. Certain non-cancerous breast conditions increase breast cancer risk in women, such as Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS) and Hyperplasia. Women with more prolonged exposure to estrogen and progesterone, such as early menstruation or late menopause, are exposed to developing breast cancer.
Modifiable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Women who aren’t physically active, whether it’s daily exercise such as yoga, running, or weight training, are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Obese or overweight individuals, especially following menopause, are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer due to high levels of estrogen. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for pre or post-menopausal women, such as progesterone and estrogen therapy (ET), can heighten breast cancer risks. Women who have not had any children, became pregnant after age 30, or did not breastfeed are also at an increased risk. Drinking alcohol increases breast cancer risks in women, especially when consuming excessive amounts. Research shows that even light to moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a 30-50% increased breast cancer risk.
How Alcohol Abuse Increases Breast Cancer Risk
Excessive alcohol consumption, also referred to as alcohol abuse and addiction, significantly increases breast cancer risks in women. In 2020, estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported almost 40,0oo cases of breast cancer from alcohol consumption. Alcohol-related breast cancer is a result of hormonal imbalances, acetaldehyde (AA)in the body, estrogen levels, oxidative stress, and changes in nutrient metabolism.
Elevated Estrogen Levels
Heavy alcohol consumption can affect the way the body metabolizes blood estrogen, leading to higher levels of estrogen. Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone responsible for developing female sex organs and characteristics, along with menstrual cycle regulation and reproduction. Alcohol interferes with the body’s natural hormone metabolism. While heavy alcohol intake decreases testosterone and progesterone in men, it increases estrogen production and other hormones linked to breast cancer in women.
Acetaldehyde (AA) Toxicity
When the body metabolizes alcohol, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) converts alcohol into acetaldehyde (AA), also known as ethanol. Acetaldehyde is a highly toxic substance and carcinogen that damages DNA, preventing the body from natural DNA repair mechanisms and potentially leading to abnormal cell growth. This abnormal cell growth and function from the toxic buildup of acetaldehyde can create a cancer tumor, increasing the risk of breast cancer. ADH1C*1 allele, one of the seven ADH genes, plays a significant role in breast cancer development in women, specifically premenopausal women.
The breakdown of alcohol affects levels of metals in the body, furthering the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS production causes oxidative stress, which can also lead to cell injury. Oxidative stress results from an imbalance between the cells’ reactive species and antioxidant defenses. This imbalance can lead to protein damage, lipid peroxidation, and DNA damage, contributing to the development and progression of breast cancer in women.
Nutrient Absorption and Metabolism
Alcohol can interfere with the body’s metabolism and absorption of folate (vitamin B-9), a critical nutrient for healthy cell growth and function. A folate deficiency from alcohol abuse is often a result of limited dietary folate consumption, potentially causing DNA damage and increasing the risk of developing breast cancer for women. Excessive alcohol use can also reduce the absorption of other critical nutrients for cellular health, including magnesium, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, iron, and calcium. This altered nutrient absorption further exacerbates breast cancer risks.
Lifestyle Habits and Prevention Strategies for Reducing Breast Cancer Risk
While there are many unchangeable factors contributing to breast cancer in women, there are prevention strategies that can help reduce the risk in women with modifiable factors. First and foremost, limiting alcohol consumption can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer development or progression. Whether it’s completely cutting out alcohol from your diet or having an occasional drink, this can have many positive effects on the human body. Making healthy lifestyle choices such as a well-balanced, nutritional diet, daily exercise, and managing a healthy weight can help limit the risk of breast cancer development. Lastly, getting regular check-ups and screening for breast cancer can also help identify any health or lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the risk.
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