Alcohol causes one in five breast cancer cases in Scotland

There is no safe drinking limit for women to avoid the risk of breast cancer

One in five Scottish breast cancer cases is caused by alcohol – and there is no ‘safe’ limit to avoid the risk. Almost 4,500 women in Scotland are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, it is the most common cancer among women and second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women. Official estimates from the Scottish Government suggest one in every 30 deaths among women is alcohol-related. (1)

Figures in the recent Scottish Health Survey show that around 38% of women regularly exceed daily or weekly sensible drinking guidelines. Career women who have a ‘Sex and the City’-type lifestyle and those for whom the evening half-bottle of wine at home has become the norm are among those who are drinking to hazardous levels that could lead to cancer. The Economic Times recently reported that women in highflying jobs drink double that of those in manual jobs, reflecting what they call a “cocktail and business card culture” which is on the rise. Experts have said there is no safe recommended intake for women if they want to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.

Dr David Morrison, director of the West of Scotland Cancer Surveillance Unit, told the Daily Mail: ‘Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women and the number goes up every year. We don’t know all the risk factors but the evidence that alcohol causes breast cancer is now very clear – it causes one out of every five cases in Scotland. There’s no “safe” amount – every drink counts.”

How does alcohol cause breast cancer?

The exact way that alcohol causes cancer is not fully known, however it is known that alcohol breaks down into a substance called acetaldehyde, whichis a carcinogen that can cause genetic mutations in the DNA sequence. This can trigger a response from the body leading to the development of cancerous cells, and the breast is one of the most sensitive organs for the carcinogenic action of alcohol.

Scottish government campaign

Drinking time machine

The Scottish Government has just launched a campaign called Alcohol Behaviour Change, in a bid to encourage women to drink less. One campaign ‘drop a drink size’ encourages women to consider drinking smaller glasses of alcohol, opting for a small glass of wine (175ml), over a large one (250ml). And a new ‘drinking time machine’ app can show you what you will look like in 10 years if you carry on drinking. The results are not flattering!

The guidelines

The government advises that women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units of alcohol daily (equivalent to a 175 ml glass of wine). Doctors advise at least two alcohol-free days a week.

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