Cancer Research UK states that you should see a doctor if you have noticed:
- a change in the size, shape or feel of a breast
- a new lump or thickening in a breast or armpit
- skin changes on such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin
- fluid leaking from a nipple when you aren't pregnant or breastfeeding
- changes in the position of a nipple
- breast pain
Most often these symptoms are caused by other medical conditions and are not necessarily symptoms of breast cancer, but if you experience any of them, it is important to get them checked by a doctor or another qualified member of your GP's team. Please visit the Cancer Research UK website for more information about the early symptoms of breast cancer.
Globally, cancer is the fifth largest cause of alcohol-related deaths yet few people make the connection between alcohol and cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the UK and while drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you will get breast cancer there is evidence to suggest that:
- the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers, including breast cancer, increases significantly if drinking more than an average of one alcoholic drink a day – or one unit, which is equivalent to about one small (125ml) glass of wine;,,
- the more you drink over a lifetime the higher your risk of developing breast cancer becomes.
The ways in which alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer are not fully understood but probably include:
- The body breaks down alcohol into a substance called acetaldehyde which can cause changes in our DNA. This can trigger a response in the body which leads to cancerous cells developing.,
- Alcohol increases levels of female hormone oestrogen – high levels of oestrogen can cause a cancer cell continually to multiply.
There are many other factors that increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer, some of which we cannot control, such as:
- Your age – you are more likely to develop breast cancer as you get older
- A family history of breast cancer (i.e. genetic risk)
Other factors in addition to alcohol, include being overweight, which is known to increase breast cancer risk. Recent evidence suggests that smoking, including passive smoking, may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer in some people, particularly in women after the menopause.
Cancer Research UK estimates that 23% of breast cancers are preventable, and that includes the 8% (or one in 13) of cases due to alcohol. Learn more about the risk factors from Cancer Research UK here.
You can help keep your risk of developing breast cancer from alcohol lower by following the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines and not drink more than 14 units a week. But even regularly drinking just one drink a day increases your risk of breast cancer.
If you do choose to drink alcohol, it is best to drink within the CMOs' low risk guidelines and to spread your drinking throughout the week, incorporating several drink-free days.
As well as reducing your drinking, being active, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and eating a balanced diet, can all help to reduce your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast cancer.
All women in the UK who are aged 50-70 and are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast screening every three years. Breast screening is a type of X-ray test called a mammogram which can detect cancers when they are too small to see or feel. After 70, women can choose to continue three-yearly breast screening.
For more information about breast screening in the UK, follow the links below.
If you live in England
If you live in Scotland
If you live in Wales
If you live in Northern Ireland
Breast cancer is rare in men and more research is needed to understand the link between alcohol and the increased risk of developing it. However, advice for men who choose to drink is the same as for women; not regularly drinking more than the CMOs’ low risk guidelines will help reduce the risk of developing male breast cancer, although regularly drinking even modest amounts of alcohol is linked with increased risk.
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Last reviewed: 2 March 2020
Next review due: 2 March 2023