For all the talk of "toxins" in our food, one definitely toxic substance you consume regularly is probably one you're not even concerned about: Alcohol. A new report shows that even one drink a day may increase your risk of breast cancer, although the risk is small.
It's hard to prove that anything causes cancer for sure, but there is a broad scientific consensus that alcohol is a carcinogen. The US National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK and the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer are all on board. There's a clear link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast.
A new report from the American Institute for Cancer Research explains what raises and lowers your risk for breast cancer. They estimate that one third of breast cancers could be prevented by exercising, not drinking alcohol and staying a healthy weight. And they get specific about alcohol: The amount that raises your risk is just 10g per day, or about seven standard drinks per week.
American women already have about a 12 per cent chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their life. That's an average; personal risk (because of genetics or environment) may be more or less. Five drinks per week raises that risk to 12.6 per cent if we're talking about pre-menopausal breast cancer, or 13.1 per cent after menopause. That's a small risk, but small risks can add up. One in eight Australian women and one in 361 Australian men are diagnosed with breast cancer before they reach 85.
We know, it's more fun to think of alcohol as an indulgence or as a healthy virtue (since moderate drinking may protect against heart disease), but it has its risks, too. Nobody is recommending that people start drinking to stave off heart disease, and cancer risk is a big part of that reason. In the end, it's up to you. Maybe you're OK with a small added risk of cancer, or maybe this news inspires you to cut down on your drinking. Your call — just be informed.