Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. It is the most common cause of death from cancer in women worldwide with up to 23 percent of all cancers in women being breast cancer. Over 100 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in the United Kingdom. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the tissue of the breast. There are two main types of breast cancer with the most common being ductal carcinoma. Ductal carcinoma occurs in the ducts that move milk from the breast tissue to the nipple. Lobular carcinoma occurs less frequently but occurs in the lobules of the breast. Breast cancer can be invasive or non-invasive. Invasive cancer is cancer that can spread from one area to another. Non-invasive cancer remains in one site of the breast.
Risk factors for the development of breast cancer include:
* Age and gender – Women over 50 have a higher prevalence of more severe cases of breast cancer than younger women. Women are also 100 times more likely than men to develop the disease.
* Family History – up to 30 percent of women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.
* Genetics – Studies have shown that women with defects in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have an 80 percent more likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
* Menstrual Cycle – Women who begin their periods early (before 12 years of age) or went through late menopause (after 55 years old) have an increased risk for breast cancer.
* Childbirth – Women who have never had children or who have them after age of 30 have an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
* Hormone Replacement Therapy – The use of hormone replacement therapy with estrogen for several years may increase the chance of developing breast cancer.
* Obesity – Women who are overweight and have a sedentary lifestyle may increase their risk of developing the disease. This link is made because women who are overweight produce more estrogen which can fuel the development of the cancer.
* Alcohol Consumption – drinking more than 1-2 glasses of alcohol per day may increase your risk of breast cancer.
Some of the risk factors such as genetic predisposition and family history are not able to be prevented, however alcohol consumption and lifestyle factors can be managed appropriately to reduce the risk. Living an active life, abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption and eating a diet high in nutritional value will help in the prevention of all cancers.
Alcohol has been found to affect women differently to men. In women, alcohol has been found to increase estrogen and androgen levels, enhance mammary gland susceptibility to carcinogenesis, increase mammary DNA damage and cause greater metastatic potential of breast cancer cells. All of these are magnified by the level of alcohol consumed regularly. In addiction to this, lifestyle and diet are a major factor with women who abstain from drinking alcohol, eat a healthy diet full of nutrient rich food and are active being less likely to develop breast cancer.
A number of studies have shown that regular drinking of even minor amounts of alcohol may contribute to an increased risk. A study performed for 28 years by Harvard Medical School has shown that even low levels of alcohol consumption may lead to breast cancer. In the study, 105968 women aged between 30 – 55 were used to gather data relating to alcohol consumption trends and evaluate these against diagnosis of breast cancer. In the lifetime of the study, 7690 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to the study, women who consumed 3-6 glasses of alcohol per week on average were 15 percent more likely to be diagnosed with having breast cancer than those who abstained. The study showed that the risk of being diagnosed increased 10 percent with every 10g of alcohol consumed. 10g of alcohol is the approximate value of alcohol contained in one standard drink. For women who consumed at least 30g of alcohol per day on average had a 51 percent increase in the risk. The study found that the type of alcohol consumed made little difference, however high risk drinking such as binge drinking did contribute.
Women face unique challenges regarding their health and well being when they drink alcohol. Serious health concerns such as depression, cancer, and other health risks are faced by women earlier than men. Women who drink alcohol may be exposing themselves and others to a number of health risks. Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of cancers, chronic diseases, neurological problems, cardiovascular issues, psychological problems, and social issues. Studies have also shown that women face more damage to cognitive skills than males if they abuse alcohol.
Women are affected by alcohol more quickly than men. Men are, on average, affected by alcohol less than women regardless of height and weight differences. This means that even when consuming the same amount of alcohol as a man, a woman will feel the effects of the alcohol quicker, have a higher blood alcohol level and be intoxicated for longer. It is understood that women are affect by alcohol more severely than men due to the fat-to-water ratio which is higher in women. Water is known to dilute alcohol and fat does not. More alcohol is retained in the body of a woman for longer than for men.
Because of this, women are more susceptible to organ damage at lower levels of consumption over a shorter period. In addition, women should abstain from consuming alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding new born children due to the impact alcohol has been found to have on unborn and newborn children. One of the most serious conditions caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome which can be prevented through abstaining.