Reminding Women of Alcohol-Breast Cancer Link During Screening May Be Beneficial, Study Finds

Alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Its impact varies a bit by region, but the World Health Organization says it’s the reason behind 7 of every 100 new breast cancer cases in Europe. Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne say it’s also responsible for 6.6% of cases in post-menopausal Australian women. A team from the university recently tested out an alcohol intervention during breast cancer screening, to see how many women were aware of the risk and if the intervention could increase understanding.

The Health4Her intervention – developed by Monash University, Turning Point, and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation – includes personalized feedback about drinking levels, information about the harms of alcohol and benefits of lowering its consumption, and ways to ensure drinking remains in the low-risk range. This is tailored to the breast cancer screening environment and also includes information on exercise and maintaining a healthy weight to lower breast cancer risk. This approach has promise in raising awareness of and addressing the risk of alcohol, according to findings published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Woman drinking wine in her kitchen

Of 557 women who attended routine breast screening through a Melbourne health system program between February and August 2021, 82% said they’d recently consumed alcohol, while only 20% said they knew this was a risk factor for breast cancer. After they’d had gone through the Health4Her intervention, the percentage with that knowledge was up to 65.

Additionally, the number of participants who knew the maximum weekly alcohol consumption recommended by Australian Alcohol Guidelines went from 4% to 16%, while those who could identify the amount of alcohol in a standard Australian drink increased from 11% to 23%.

Lead researcher Dr. Jasmin Grigg says, “Previous research has shown that women attending breast screening services have low awareness of the alcohol-breast cancer link, so these results are encouraging.”

Two friends toasting with beer

She adds that screening is a good time for women to be reminded of or informed of the link, explaining, “We know that population-based breast screening programs are uniquely positioned to provide women with health information and strategies to reduce risk of breast cancer, at a time when breast cancer is top of mind.

“With data showing nearly 1.9 million Australian women were screened by BreastScreen Australia in 2018-2019, health messaging about this specific risk offered in this supportive environment has potential for extensive reach.”

A representative from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation says the findings show administering such an intervention during screening also has the potential to change behavior and lower cancer risk.

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of breast cancer increases with each unit of alcohol consumed each day. Alcohol is also linked to a higher risk of mouth, throat, esophageal, liver, larynx, and colorectal cancers.

Bartender offering blue cocktail
People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!