As companies roll out pink beer and cocktails in October to raise awareness of breast cancer, Alcohol Awareness next month is urging us all to remember the link between drink and the disease. The charity behind Alcohol Awareness week, Alcohol Change UK, says that an estimated 4% of breast cancers are now thought to be in part attributable to alcohol consumption in developed countries, contributing to an estimated 2,000 cases of breast cancer in the UK each year.
How alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer has not been clearly identified. It may change circulating concentrations of sex hormones, in particular oestrogen, suggesting a similar mechanism to other known breast cancer risk factors. However, much more research is needed to confirm this relationship, says Alcohol Change UK.
Alcohol is the breast cancer risk no one wants to talk about
The increased alcohol consumption among young women in the UK makes the link between alcohol and breast cancer increasingly alarming.
Figures from the Health Survey for England, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research in 2002, reported that 32% of young women aged between 16–24 years drank more than the NHS-recommended 14 units per week. Since 1998, the proportion of young women drinking six or more units on a single day has increased from 38% in 1998 to 52% in 2002. If such drinking trends continue among young women, it is expected that the incidences of breast cancer will also increase accordingly.
In the USA, social media campaigns such as Drink Less For Your Breasts are targeting young women through Facebook adverts and videos. The campaign is also designed around ‘edu-grams’, or educational Instagrams, which relay sobering information to urge women to cut back, then links to the campaign website for more details. Based on past epidemiological studies, the Drink Less campaign estimates that, over time, even one drink a day (the limit recommended by US dietary guidelines for women) raises breast cancer risk by 14%.
According to a 2020 analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, only about one in four women aged 15–44 knows that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer.
Alcohol Awareness Week is taking place from 15–21st November. For information, click here.
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