Last fall the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition hosted a workshop with Dr. David Jernigan, Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing & Youth and Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and during that training attendees learned that in America, 15% of breast cancer is related to alcohol use. Although, it is extremely important to find cures for cancers, in the prevention world, it is hard to ignore and not focus on what can be causing different medical conditions. Each fall, on a cool and crisp autumn morning, thousands of us all dressed in brightly colored t-shirts remember those who have passed and those who have survived, line up to participate in the “Especially for You Race” to raise money for mammograms and other breast care services. Most of us know someone has had breast cancer and the impact is huge. But are other preventative measures also important?
The Susan G Komen website provides a vast amount of information regarding prevention and makes valid points when addressing the connection between alcohol and breast cancer. They state that some studies suggest drinking alcohol in the teen years (up until the age at first pregnancy) may increase a woman’s breast cancer risk in adulthood. One large study found that for every 6-7 alcoholic drinks a woman consumed each week between the age when she started her period and the time of her first pregnancy, her breast cancer risk increased by 10 percent.
The website also shares that data from 53 studies found for each alcoholic drink consumed per day, the relative risk of breast cancer increased by about 7 percent. Women who had 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who didn’t drink alcohol. This information is concerning. Often when someone opens a bottle of wine they do not drink 4-5 ounces, what is considered one standard drink. It’s easy to end up drinking 2-3 servings of wine without even realizing it.
Why does alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer? Studies show that alcohol can change the way a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen. This can cause blood estrogen levels to rise. Estrogen levels are higher in women who drink alcohol than in non-drinkers. These higher estrogen levels may in turn, increase the risk of breast cancer according to Susan G Komen’s information.
We’ve all heard of the risks of binge drinking and how it can come with many consequences. We also know that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol, however, may lower the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and death for some. However, drinking more than 1 drink per day (for women) and more than 2 drinks per day (for men) has no health benefits and many serious health risks, including breast cancer.
The culture of drinking has changed over the last decade, and youth have noticed. The youth I talk to do not think it is cool when adults in their lives drink cases of beer regularly or even when adults binge drink occasionally. Unfortunately, there seems to be a sense with females especially, that women drinking wine regularly is more sophisticated and more acceptable. While low risk drinking can be safe for some, some extra attention does need to be held. April is Alcohol Awareness month. It’s a good time to think about our attitudes and behaviors concerning alcohol and see how they might be affecting our health.
By: Jennifer Husmann, ASAC Certified Prevention Specialist