Moderate drinking may increase risk of breast cancer returning

Thursday 4 May, 2017

Drinking as little as little 6 grams of alcohol a day – less than one standard drink – may increase the risk of breast cancer returning for survivors of the disease.

New research shows that the equivalent of 60 ml of wine a day, or approximately half a bottle a week, could be enough to increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

The study's author, Dr Anna Boltong, Head of Strategy and Support at Cancer Council Victoria, said the findings present an opportunity to provide specific information to people following a cancer diagnosis. The findings may assist clinicians who have a role in providing healthy lifestyle messages to cancer patients.

Whilst the findings are based on a small number of studies and further research is needed, Dr Boltong said the findings represent an opportunity to improve public health messaging for cancer patients.

"The current public health advice for reducing alcohol risk is an upper limit of two standard drinks per day for healthy men and women but there is no reference to people who have previously been diagnosed with cancer," Dr Boltong said.

"These results show that as little as 6 grams of alcohol per day – that's just three tablespoons of wine – is associated with a modest increase in risk for women who have had breast cancer, particularly those who are post-menopausal".

The findings will be presented at The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference, which began in Melbourne yesterday and runs until May 5.

Clinicians and researchers from all over the world will present the latest research on a range of issues that can increase the burden of cancer including alcohol, tobacco, obesity, and junk food marketing.

One in eight Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of a diagnosis.

However, the latest findings have the potential to change the way advice is given to cancer patients.

"People who have survived cancer should be armed with all the facts and be supported to reduce their alcohol intake and improve their health."

More than 150 presentations will be delivered at the conference, which kicked off yesterday at Melbourne's Langham Hotel.

The keynote address will be delivered by Professor Robert C Hornik from the University of Pennsylvania, who is one of the world-leading experts on the public health communication environment.



  • Australian public health guidelines for reducing health risks from drinking alcohol, stipulate an upper limit of two standard drinks (20g of alcohol) per day for healthy men and women to reduce their risk of alcohol-related disease and injury, but make no reference to individuals previously diagnosed with cancer.
  • These guidelines (Australian Guidelines To Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009, published by the National Health and Medical Research Council) are currently under revision.
  • The guidelines aim to provide health professionals, policy makers and the Australian community with high quality advice, based on the best available scientific evidence, on the health effects of drinking alcohol.
  • The 13th Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference (BRCC2017) is hosted by Cancer Council Victoria. The conference program can be viewed here.