Female breast cancer and alcohol consumption: a review of the literature

Am J Prev Med. 2014 Mar;46(3 Suppl 1):S16-25. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.031.


Context: Consumption of alcoholic beverages is one of the single most important known and modifiable risk factor for human cancer. Among women, breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and the leading cause of cancer-related mortality. Consumption of alcoholic beverages is causally associated with female breast cancer and the association shows a linear dose-response relationship. The role of heavy drinking has been long recognized and even a moderate intake is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. The present review is an update of the current evidence on the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. The aim is to gain further insight into this association and to improve our current understanding of the effects of the major modifying factors.

Evidence acquisition: Epidemiologic and experimental studies published since the most recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monograph on alcoholic beverages were identified in PubMed using a combination of keywords such as alcohol, breast cancer, polymorphisms, menopausal status.

Evidence synthesis: Cumulative lifetime consumption, drinking frequency, drinking patterns and timing of exposure each modulate the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Hormonal status, genetic polymorphisms, and nutritional factors may interact with ethanol metabolism and further influence breast cancer risk.

Conclusions: Better standardization among experimental and epidemiologic designs in assessing alcohol intake and timing of exposure may improve our understanding of the heterogeneity observed across studies, possibly allowing the quantification of the effects of occasional heavy drinking and the identification of a window of higher susceptibility to breast cancer development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcoholic Beverages / adverse effects
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors