Cheers to Living Longer after Cancer!

Breast cancer survival not tied to alcohol consumption in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You may have heard that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. What about drinking after a breast cancer diagnosis? Does drinking before or after breast cancer affect a breast cancer survivor’s life expectancy?

There may be something to cheer about here.

New research is suggesting that alcohol consumption – either before or after being diagnosed with breast cancer – does not impact survival.

In fact, this study showed that moderate drinking before and after diagnosis appeared to help breast cancer survivors live longer.

"Ask your doctor about wine consumption."

“Alcohol consumption is a well-established risk factor for developing breast cancer, but whether alcohol consumed before or after the diagnosis of breast cancer is related to survival has been unresolved," Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, told dailyRx News.

Alcohol is considered a breast cancer risk factor because it affects a woman’s production of estrogen, a hormone that feeds most breast cancers.

To investigate alcohol’s impact on lifespan, Polly Newcomb, PhD, a member of the Public Health Sciences Division and head of the Cancer Prevention Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and colleagues analyzed the drinking habits of nearly 23,000 women prior to their breast cancer diagnoses.

A follow-up survey involving 5,000 women gathered information about drinking customs following diagnosis.

These women were enrolled in the Collaborative Breast Cancer Study. The study began in 1988, and the women were followed for about 11 years.

Of the 22,890 women who completed the original questionnaire about drinking before their diagnosis, most (66 percent) reported having one to six drinks a week.

After diagnosis, 62 percent said they had anywhere from one to six drinks per week.

Here’s what else the researchers learned:

  • The quantity and type of alcohol a woman had before her diagnosis did not affect her likelihood of dying from breast cancer.
  • Likewise, the amount and type of alcohol a woman reported consuming after her diagnosis was not associated with her likelihood of dying from breast cancer.
  • Those who consumed a moderate level of alcohol (three to six drinks per week) in the years before their cancer diagnosis were 15 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-drinkers.
  • Women who drank moderately after learning they had breast cancer had a 39 to 50 percent lower death rate from cardiovascular disease than non-drinkers.
  • Wine in particular was associated with lower cardiovascular mortality.
  • Beer, spirits and heavier drinking did not offer this benefit.

“This very large and well done study showed that moderate alcohol intake, such as one drink daily, was associated with less overall mortality in women with breast cancer, likely because of the cardiovascular benefit of moderate alcohol,” Dr. Giovannucci said.

“This study does not address whether women without breast cancer should be advised to drink or not, but reassures that women with breast cancer will not be more likely to die from their cancer and may even experience reduced cardiovascular disease from moderate alcohol drinking after their cancer diagnosis,”  Dr. Giovannucci said.

This research was published April 8 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Funding for the study was provided by grants from the National Cancer Institute and Komen for the Cure. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 8, 2013
Last Updated:
April 8, 2013