The first article I wrote about the link between drinking alcohol and breast cancer was “One Glass of Alcohol a Day Increases Breast Cancer Risk, But Role of Chemicals Overlooked” on May 24, 2017.
The second was “Drinking Small Amounts of Alcohol Linked to Breast Cancer” written on April 21, 2008.
Therefore, it surprised me to see a lengthy article in Mother Jones by a reporter, diagnosed with breast cancer at age 47, who wasn’t aware of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer.
The reporter Stephanie Mencimer said
I’m a pretty voracious reader of health news, and all of this came as a shock. I’d been told red wine was supposed to defend against heart disease, not give you cancer. And working at Mother Jones, I thought I’d written or read articles on everything that could maybe possibly cause cancer: sugar, plastic, milk, pesticides, shampoo, the wrong sunscreen, tap water…You name it, we’ve reported on the odds that it might give you cancer.
In 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it’s been proved to cause cancer. There is no known safe dosage in humans, according to the WHO. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent.
Mencimer said the reason she may not have known about the link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption is because the alcohol industry, to turn around slumping sales, worked to rebrand booze as a staple of a healthy lifestyle, such as salads and jogging. Due to the industry efforts, the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans published by the Department of Agriculture removed language indicating that alcohol had “no net health benefit” and stated that, for some people, moderate alcohol consumption might reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, a host of studies have found that drinking alcohol doesn’t provide any heart benefits. The department removed language suggesting that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease in the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
To promote alcohol consumption, alcohol companies sponsor football games, NASCAR events, 5K races, and triathlons, Mencimer said in her article. And, the distilled spirits industry, facing flagging sales, created “alcopops” – sweetened alcoholic beverages that are packaged in childlike bright colors to appeal to women who don’t like the taste of beer. The alcohol industry also is “pinkwashing” products targeted at women, including pink ribbons in the ads, with promises to donate some proceeds to breast cancer charities.
Taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, the alcohol industry funds research to show the benefits of alcohol consumption and refute findings that are negative, she said.
Mencimer examines why her heavy drinking at an early age may have contributed to her breast cancer. Human breast tissue doesn’t fully mature until a woman becomes pregnant. Before then, and particularly during puberty, breast cells proliferate rapidly, which may make them especially vulnerable to carcinogens.
Researchers estimate that alcohol accounts for 15 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases, about 35,000 a year, with deaths at about 6,600 a year.
Overall, American women have about a 12 percent lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. A woman who consumes two to three drinks a day has a lifetime risk of about 15 percent – about 25 percent increase over women who don’t drink.
Mencimer’s article is worth reading. She does a great job of reporting on the alcohol industry attempts to hide the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen. And, it helps women rethink what they should do about alcohol consumption.