Alcohol and breast cancer … what am I telling my patients?

In a blog earlier today, “Even low levels of alcohol increase breast cancer risk,” I told you, “Less than a drink a day even a glass of wine with dinner, could change the risk of breast cancer.” So, what am I telling my patients?

I’m following the tact first outlined in the Los Angeles Times where the pros and cons of alcohol consumption were discussed.

First of all, it’s true that past evidence suggests that having heavy drinking “had long been known to raise the risk of breast cancer” by “increasing the amount of estrogen and related hormones” … and now the new evidence is showing that four or more glasses of wine a week can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer by about 15%.

But, it’s also true that moderate to low alcohol intake is linked to a large “drop in risk for heart disease.”

The drop in the risk for heart disease is significantly greater than the small rise “in risk for breast cancer.”

Since women have “a higher lifetime risk of developing cardiovascular disease than breast cancer,” it is difficult to make a “blanket recommendation for women who are trying to balance a breast cancer risk against cardiovascular benefits.” For example, between 45,000 and 50,000 women die each year from breast cancer, but between 450,000 and 500,000 (ten times as many) die from cardiovascular disease.

Other benefits to moderate drinking may be “lower rates of diabetes, dementia, arthritis, enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, gall bladder disease, and even some cancers, such as those of the kidney and thyroid.”

So, what’s the bottom line? What am I telling my female patients?

Each one will need to weight the risks and benefits for herself. However, it appears to me that for women who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, that doing so three times a week or less will confer no breast cancer risk and may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For my female readers, I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts.

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