Doctor: Alcohol could boost cancer risk

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to cut back on your alcohol, here’s some extra incentive for that plan: It could lower your risk of getting cancer.

“The connection with alcohol and breast cancer has been well defined,” Dr. Paula Rosenblatt, an oncologist who treats breast cancer patients at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“There are hundreds of studies that have shown the association that, basically, as little as a drink a day can increase one’s risk of breast cancer,” she said.

When it comes to talking about alcohol and health, Rosenblatt said the talk about a glass of wine a day being good for your heart has overshadowed the fact that alcohol can also have serious health risks, such as cancer. It’s not just breast cancer — the risk of other cancers of the head and neck and throughout the body increases with alcohol use.

As for why alcohol has this effect, there are a couple of hypotheses.

“Alcohol is just empty calories and can be associated with weight gain,” Dr. Rosenblatt said. “Obesity can be associated with breast cancer as well.”

Another explanation is that the metabolization of alcohol increases the estrogen in a woman’s body, and 80% of breast cancers are estrogen positive breast cancers.

Does this mean you have to stop drinking altogether?

“I think a drink here or there is safe,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s regularly drinking on a daily basis and drinking multiple servings of alcohol that really is the problem.”

Basically, save the alcoholic drinks for special occasions, or a weekend treat, instead of adding it to your menu every day, she said.

It’s also important to note what constitutes a drink.

“I think American servings of things are quite large,” Dr. Rosenblatt said. “In medical terms a serving of alcohol is only 5 ounces of wine, is only an ounce-and-a-half of liquor or a 12-ounce beer.” So be mindful that your single drink could be more than a serving.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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