It may not just be alcohol that increases the risk of breast cancer—it could be hormone replacement therapy HRT plus alcohol, according to research published in the International Journal of Cancer (March 2008). Women taking oral estrogen who had one or two alcoholic drinks a day increased their breast cancer risk by three times that of women who neither drank nor took HRT. Those who took HRT and had more than two drinks a day increased their risk to five times that of those who ingested neither HRT nor alcohol.
Researchers followed 5,000 Danish women for 20 years and surveyed them on their HRT and alcohol use. Over the two decades of the study, 267 developed breast cancer.
Alcohol and HRT both increase estrogen levels. Together, they are deadly. And, while estrogen does not fuel hormone-receptor-negative cancer, it can be a factor in the earliest formation of the disease.
And the fabulous news for folks like me who miss their martinis—drinking without HRT did not increase the breast cancer risk. I am not ready to hit the bottle in celebration, because this is just one study, but I am encouraged.
So the best approach is to limit both alcohol (fewer than four drinks a week) and the length of time you are on HRT. If you need HRT to improve your quality of life, try alternative forms—I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but here’s a reminder of what the National Cancer Institute recommends:
• regular exercise
• a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat
• limited alcohol
• no smoking
• flaxseed, whole grain cereal, and legumes
Vitamin D supplements and calcium can limit loss of bone mass.