Alcohol abuse is a common problem in most societies that leads to serious health problems. However, many people are aware of the negative effects of alcohol on the liver and cardiovascular system but do not know about the link between alcohol and an increased risk of cancer. The connection between abuse and breast cancer is especially subtle to the average citizen since most people cannot understand how alcohol can affect the mammary glands’ condition. For this reason, this paper will examine the effects of alcohol abuse on the development of breast cancer in women to uncover its devastating consequences.
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Mechanism of Alcohols’ Influence on Breast Cancer Development
Scientists around the world do not yet have a common understanding of the mechanism of alcohol’s influence on the risks of breast cancer in women. However, the most likely processes include oxidative stress, cell proliferation, and effects on hormones and nutrients (Freudenheim, 2020). Oxidative stress due to the production of reactive oxygen species promotes carcinogenesis or the process of creating tumor cells. At the same time, alcohol breaks down ethanol in its composition to acetaldehyde that is a toxic substance and carcinogen for humans that can harm DNA and proteins (“Alcohol and cancer,” n.d.). This carcinogen is mainly produced in the liver, but it can also accumulate in breast cells and increase cell proliferation, or cell growth, provoking tumor growth.
Moreover, alcohol consumption affects breast density, which is the strongest association with an increased risk of developing cancer cells. The density of breast tissue is accessed by radiography and helps to determine the early stages of carcinogenesis. Freudenheim (2020) notes that, according to multiple studies, drinking more than 10 grams of alcohol per day is associated with an increased risk of high-density breast tissues. Although such studies are limited and inconsistent and include different factors from ethnicity to the weight of participants, they point to the possible negative effect of alcohol on breast density. Consequently, another mechanism and influence of alcohol abuse is an increase in breast tissue density, which is an indicator of the initial stages of carcinogenesis.
Furthermore, alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients necessary for the body to function properly. For example, alcohol reduces levels of folate, which protects the body against breast cancer risk, as well as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and carotenoids (Freudenheim, 2020; “Alcohol and cancer,” n.d.). At the same time, raising folate levels with medication demonstrates a reduction of cancer risk even with moderate drinking. Another mechanism is the effect of alcohol on hormones, particularly steroid hormones and estrogen, which are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (Freudenheim, 2020; “Alcohol and cancer,” n.d.). Thus, one or more mechanisms of alcohol’s influence on the body can increase the risk of developing tumor cells and breast cancer.
Effect of Alcohol Abuse on Breast Cancer Risk
Alcohol has effects on a woman’s body at any age; however, the risk of breast cancer increases with hormone levels and the stage of breast development that changes during a lifetime. For example, studies show that “for a 10-gram increase in alcohol consumed per day on average, the risk increased 5% among premenopausal women and 9% among postmenopausal women” (Freudenheim, 2020, p.2). At the same time, other studies have found that the risk of benign breast disease increases by 15% with alcohol consumption during adolescence and by 50% between the ages of 9 and 15 (Freudenheim, 2020). In addition, the results of studies in different countries are approximately the same and do not depend on the race or origin of women.
Moreover, the amount of alcohol consumed has a noticeable influence as abuse significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute defines that drinking four or more beverages per day, or eight or more beverages per week for a woman, as heavy drinking (“Alcohol and cancer,” n.d.). However, the risk also varies with the intensity of drinking, since consumption of one beverage a day for a week and 7-8 in one day have different effects on the body.
However, although studies on the amount of alcohol consumed are limited, they demonstrate that the risk increases in proportion to the drinking severity. For example, Freudenheim (2020) notes that women who consumed 0.5, 1, and 1–2 alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 4%, 9%, and 13%, respectively. The National Cancer Institute also notes that drinkers have a 1.04 higher risk of breast cancer than non-drinkers, and this risk is 1.23-fold and1.6-fold higher for moderate and heavy drinkers, respectively (“Alcohol and cancer,” n.d.). Thus, it should be noted that although alcohol abuse has more serious consequences for a woman’s body, light and moderate drinking also increases the risk of breast cancer.
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Awareness of the Population about Alcohol as a Risk Factor of Breast Cancer Development
Despite the devastating effects of alcohol, few people are aware of its impact on cancer risk, including breast cancer. Freudenheim (2020) notes that according to a survey of students in 23 countries around the world, only 3.3% know that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Sinclair et al. (2019), in their study of women attending the NHS Breast Screening Program (NHSBSP) mammograms, found that only 19.5% of them knew about alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer. At the same time, not all staff were also aware of this fact, and only 48.5% answered the question correctly (Sinclair et al., 2019). In addition, most people do not know the amount of alcohol in the common beverage they consume, which also demonstrates a lack of awareness of alcohol’s effects in general.
Consequently, healthcare organizations, doctors, and nurses should more often include knowledge about the effects of alcohol on cancer in educational and counseling materials. For example, this issue can be discussed at sex education lessons in schools, patients’ consultation during routine gynecologist and mammologist checking, as well as part of educational programs along with HIV and AIDS prevention. In addition, in this matter, it is important not only to warn about the dangers of alcohol but also to provide knowledge about the amount of alcohol in drinks and their acceptable amount, which has minimal harm. This aspect is necessary because even though most people are aware of the benefits of avoiding alcohol, they still cannot give it up completely. For this reason, healthcare needs to minimize alcohol’s negative impact on the human body.
Therefore, alcohol abuse is a destructive habit that increases the risk of breast cancer. Although there is no consensus on the mechanisms by which alcohol affects breast health, its negative effects are factual. At the same time, while alcohol abuse is the most harmful, light and moderate drinking also increases the risk of breast cancer. In addition, healthcare organizations need to pay more attention to educating the population about this issue, since most women are not aware of the significant risks of developing breast cancer associated with alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and cancer risk. (n.d.). 2020, Web.
Freudenheim J. L. (2020). Alcohol’s effects on breast cancer in women. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 40(2), 11, 1-12.
Sinclair, J., McCann, M., Sheldon, E., Gordon, I., Brierley-Jones, L., & Copson, E. (2019). The acceptability of addressing alcohol consumption as a modifiable risk factor for breast cancer: a mixed method study within breast screening services and symptomatic breast clinics. BMJ Open, 9(6), 1-12.