It’s October, “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in South Africa. It’s an annual drive to raise awareness of breast cancer and to support all victims and survivors across all races and class structures. The South African Government is part of this drive to assist all women at risk. In this blog, we look at the connections between drinking wine and breast cancer and whether this is a real concern, or not.
Many people may agree that wine, that age-old elixir, has been a faithful companion to mankind for centuries. Whether it’s the crimson allure of a Cabernet Sauvignon or the delicate notes of a Chardonnay, wine is more than just a beverage. It’s a testament to human craftsmanship and an embodiment of culture. But does it harbour a dark secret?
Alcohol Causes Cancer, it’s a Fact
Elize Joubert, CANSA CEO, states, “Alcohol consumption is associated with significant public health and safety problems, including causing a number of cancers.”
“In 1988 alcohol was declared a cancer causing agent to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and in 2007 and 2009, these findings were confirmed. There’s strong evidence that alcohol causes cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx, liver and oesophagus. And there’s also mounting evidence that heavy drinking might be linked to cancer of the pancreas (Cancer Research UK 2016). Furthermore evidence suggests that drinking alcohol causes stomach and breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. Alcohol can cause weight gain which also increases cancer risk. In South Africa, alcohol is considered to be the most widespread and harmful drug of abuse.”
Research in the field of wine and breast cancer is akin to a complex maze. Recent studies caution against any alcohol intake. It’s worth noting that excessive alcohol consumption, regardless of the type of beverage, is a known risk factor for several cancers, including breast cancer.
The World Health Organisation has announced that it is the alcohol that causes harm, not the beverage. “Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance and has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago – this is the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, including the most common cancer types, such as bowel cancer and female breast cancer. Ethanol (alcohol) causes cancer through biological mechanisms as the compound breaks down in the body, which means that any beverage containing alcohol, regardless of its price and quality, poses a risk of developing cancer.
The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed. However, the latest available data indicate that half of all alcohol-attributable cancers in the WHO European Region are caused by “light” and “moderate” alcohol consumption – less than 1.5 litres of wine or less than 3.5 litres of beer or less than 450 millilitres of spirits per week. This drinking pattern is responsible for the majority of alcohol-attributable breast cancers in women, with the highest burden observed in countries of the European Union (EU). In the EU, cancer is the leading cause of death – with a steadily increasing incidence rate – and the majority of all alcohol-attributable deaths are due to different types of cancers.”
Some wine drinkers choose to moderate because they don’t want to give up drinking wine forever and they feel that this will save them from health issues later on, yet still allow them their nightly tipple. For women, moderate drinking translates to no more than one drink per day. Remember that what constitutes a “standard drink” is approximately 14 grams of alcohol, equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Beware of oversized glasses, for what seems like one drink could stealthily count as two.
In the Report on Carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services, alcohol consumption stands marked as a known human carcinogen. The more one drinks, the more pronounced the risk of alcohol-associated cancers. Those who enjoy no more than one drink a day, as well as the intrepid binge drinkers, defined by their consumption of four or more drinks for women (five or more for men) in a single sitting, face a modestly heightened risk of certain cancers.
No Alcohol is Best
Alcohol consumption is linked to the development of various cancers, including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. So how does alcohol influence cancer risk? Alcohol metabolism generates acetaldehyde, a potential carcinogen that can damage DNA and proteins. Reactive oxygen species, born from alcohol’s presence, trigger oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids. Alcohol’s influence on nutrient absorption and the modulation of estrogen levels further contribute to the complex dance with cancer.
Maybe it is time more drinkers read about the science behind alcohol consumption and its effects on the human brain. Or listen to Ken Middleton tell his story on Tribe Sober.