Alcohol Awareness Month: Drinking may increase breast cancer risk

The fact that nearly 30,700 alcohol-induced deaths were reported in the United States in 2014 reveals the hesitation shown by Americans to curb their drinking habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 88,000 people succumb to the disorders attributed to excessive alcohol use annually.

For a long, scientists have been conducting studies to determine the evils of drinking and make people understand the adverse effects of alcohol. With the very purpose, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has been observing April every year since 1987 as the Alcohol Awareness Month.

This year’s theme “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use” aims at encouraging parents to educate their wards about the perils associated with early age drinking, the consequences of irresponsible drinking, the imperativeness to combat the social stigma linked to drinking habits and inspire the communities to focus on issues associated with alcohol abuse.

Association between alcohol and breast cancer

To establish a link between breast cancer and drinking habits, researchers from the University of Houston have identified a cancer-causing gene that gets activated with alcohol. In the study, titled “Alcohol Regulates Genes that Are Associated with Response to Endocrine Therapy and Attenuates the Actions of Tamoxifen in Breast Cancer Cells,” the researchers aimed at examining the impact of alcohol on the actions of estrogen in breast cancer cells.

Explaining the objective of the research, Chin-Yo Lin, co-author of the study and an assistant professor with the University of Houston’s Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling and the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, said, “Alcohol consumption is prevalent among women in the U.S. and is a risk factor for breast cancer.”

In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE in December 2015, the researchers determined the effect of alcohol in increasing the rate of multiplication of estrogen-induced cells apart from stressing on a direct association between alcohol, estrogen and a cancer-causing gene in stimulating growth of cells.

Lin said, “Our research shows alcohol enhances the actions of estrogen in driving the growth of breast cancer cells and diminishes the effects of the cancer drug Tamoxifen in blocking estrogen by increasing the levels of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF.”

The researchers pointed to the role of alcohol in improperly encouraging sustained expression of BRAF, without estrogen, therefore, copying or intensifying the impact of estrogen in enhancing the probability of breast cancer.

The scientists stressed on another important observation of alcohol’s potential in debilitating ability of Tamoxifen in quelling the fast mushrooming of cancer cells, thus, suggesting that alcohol can negatively influence a number of pathways and mechanisms related to cancer. The results obtained after evaluation of study details also provide a new perspective on the cross-talk between alcohol and cancer-linked gene pathways and networks in breast cancer.

Significance of the study

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women across the globe. According to a 2016 report by the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second leading cause of deaths among American women irrespective of their race or ethnicity. Till January 1, 2014, over 3.1 million female Americans were living with a history of breast cancer, says the ACS.

The findings attribute increasing number of breast cancer cases in the U.S. to alcohol consumption.  The scientists also warned against drinking habits after finding a link between drinking and a heightened likelihood of repetition of the disease in women afflicted with early stage breast cancer.

The research aimed at discovering methods and ways for breast cancer prevention. But the importance of the study cannot be ignored as women undergoing therapeutic interventions for hormone replacement after menopause can be aware of the effect of alcohol on their hormones they have been taking to manage their indications.

The conclusion of the study is of consequence to college-age women for whom binge drinking is a regular feature. Substantiating the conclusions of the research, Lin said, “We hope these and future findings will provide information and motivation to promote healthy behavioral choices, as well as potential targets for chemoprevention strategies to ultimately decrease breast cancer incidents and deaths within the next decade.”

“We want to provide women, in general, with more information and insight to be better able to balance their consumption of alcoholic beverages with the potential health risks, including cancer patients who may want to take into consideration the potential detrimental effects alcohol consumption might have on treatments,” he said.

The way forward

If you or your loved one is looking for treatment options to get rid of alcohol dependence, you may get in touch with the Alcohol Addiction Helpline for the best curative procedures that can help you in achieving complete sobriety. You may also call our 24/7 helpline at 866-281-3014 or chat online for further information.