You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. The earlier in your life you start to reduce your drinking, the better.
- Regularly drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer
- The more you drink, the greater your risk
- Cut down your regular drinking to keep your risk of breast cancer at a lower level
How much does alcohol increase my risk?
Research shows that regularly drinking alcohol is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Your risk of breast cancer will depend on how much alcohol you tend to drink. The more alcohol you drink regularly, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer at some point in your life. Even drinking just one drink a day can increase risk.
The graph below shows how many women out of 50 will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, depending on how many units of alcohol they drink. Find out more about units in the next section.
- In a group of 50 women who do not drink, about six will probably develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Find out how age affects breast cancer risk
- But in a group of 50 women who drink two units of alcohol a day (for example, a standard glass of wine), about seven will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
- So drinking two units a day causes one extra women out of every 50 to develop breast cancer
You can keep your risk of breast cancer at a lower level by drinking less alcohol over your life.
What are the national health guidelines for alcohol?
National health guidelines across the UK recommend that women drink no more than 14 units a week. This is the equivalent of six pints of lower-strength beer or six 175ml glasses of wine per week. If you can, try spreading your drinks over a few days and aim to have days off drinking each week. You can find out more about the national guidelines in our blog - Alcohol and breast cancer: how much is too much?
There is still a risk of breast cancer associated with this level of drinking, but it can be a useful limit to stick to when beginning to cut down.
It’s easy to get confused about how much alcohol is in your drink, particularly with so many different sizes of glasses or bottles. Units are used as a simple way to express how much pure alcohol is present in a drink.
Another way of calculating alcohol content is using ABV (alcohol by volume). ABV is how much pure alcohol is contained in the volume of a drink, given as a percentage of the total amount of liquid in your drink.
You can use the guide below to see how many units of alcohol and ABV are in your drink of choice or use the alcohol unit calculator from Alcohol Concern.
What can I do to reduce my drinking?
Cutting out drinking completely can be quite difficult for many people. But there are plenty of ways and ideas you can use to start cutting down.
- Try swapping strong beers or wine for ones with a lower strength (ABV)
- If you’re drinking at home, measure out your drinks to track your intake
- It can be useful to track your drinking with an app or diary
- Try having an alcohol free day once or twice a week
- Talk things over with friends or family who can help support you
- Try spacing out your drinks in an evening with soft drinks or mocktails
Soberistas is another website you may find helpful, where you can share your experiences and get support.
Reducing your drinking can also help improve your general health and wellbeing, as well as reducing your risk of other cancers and diseases.
If you are worried about alcohol and breast cancer, talk to your doctor. They will be able to give you more information and advice.
How is our data calculated?
We base our calculations on evidence that we judge to be reliable and of most relevance to the UK population. We’d like to thank the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK for providing us with baseline data (June 2017).
Note: some figures have been rounded up for clarity.
Allen NE, Beral V, Casabonne D, Kan SW, Reeves GK, Brown A, Green J. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009; 101:296-305
Office of National Statistics. (2012) General Lifestyle Survey Overview
Information last reviewed: November 2017
Next review due: November 2020
Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out more.