September 14, 2022

Alcohol and breast cancer

Breast cancer pink ribbon

There’s a direct link between drinking alcohol and breast cancer.1

In Australia, up to 1 in 10 breast cancers is related to drinking.2, 3

But, many people just don’t know the link.

Only 1 in 5 people attending a breast screening in the UK knew about the cancer risk associated with drinking.4 And in the US, awareness that alcohol is a cancer risk factor is lowest for breast cancer.5

Alcohol is also a significant risk factor for seven other types of cancer

Even though alcohol is the most used drug in Australia, only half of Australians are aware drinking can cause cancer.6, 7

Like any other product, knowing the risks of alcohol can help people make informed decisions. 

Breast cancer awareness campaigns and the alcohol industry

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, an opportunity to highlight the importance of prevention and research into breast cancer.

The iconic pink ribbon, and colour pink, are widely used in campaigns such as:

For many, the pink ribbon symbolises support and solidarity, hope for a cure, and is associated with healthy living.

But the colour pink, and pink ribbons, are also misleadingly used by companies that sell products linked to cancer.8

Alcohol industry companies do this by:

  • adding the pink ribbon, or the colour pink, to products and advertisements
  • selling breast cancer awareness merchandise
  • partnering with breast cancer charities 
  • pledging an amount per product towards breast cancer charities.

Because the famous pink ribbon isn’t ‘owned’ or regulated, any company can use it - even if they make or sell cancer-causing products.8

This kind of marketing (called pink-washing) is harmful because it:

  • promotes cancer causing products
  • exploits customers’ goodwill
  • spreads misinformation about breast cancer risk factors
  • is unsettling and frustrating for those directly affected by breast cancer.9

Previously, the alcohol industry has been criticised for using pink-washing marketing tactics around International Women’s Day and Dry July.

While the prevalence of pink-washing by the alcohol industry in Australia is decreasing, partnerships between alcohol producers, sellers and breast cancer charities are still being promoted.10

Campaigns like #Dontpinkmydrink, Pink is not the problem and Think Before You Pink are calling out the industries linked to cancer for pink-washing. These campaigns encourage consumers to think critically before they buy.

Breast cancer in Australia

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australia.11

An estimated 20,640 people assigned female at birth and 212 people assigned male at birth will be diagnosed in 2022.

Every year, we are understanding more about the risk factors for cancer. 

These risk factors can include:

  • family history and genetics
  • personal factors (such as age, height and breast density)
  • reproductive factors
  • individual’s lifestyle (including level of drinking)
  • medical history (previous experience of cancer, certain treatments, and medications)
  • environmental factors.12

How to reduce breast cancer risk

A breast screen is the best way to detect breast cancer early, and also improve the outcomes from treatment.13 Those aged 50 and over can have their free breast cancer screening every two years. 

If you’re under 50 and concerned about breast cancer, you can still get screened – just talk to your doctor. 

For more information, visit the Cancer Council’s page on breast cancer screening.

If you are trans or gender diverse, you can speak with your doctor to find out if breast screening might be beneficial for you.

Although breast cancer mostly affects those 50 and over, every day around 3 women under 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer.11

Risk factors for under 40s include:

  • family history and genetic factors
  • hormonal factors
  • drinking.14

You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by:

  • stopping or reducing your drinking
  • doing regular physical exercise.15

Check out this Cancer Council article on how to be breast aware – you don’t need to be an expert to check for signs.

More info

  1. Freudenheim JL. Alcohol's Effects on Breast Cancer in Women. Alcohol research: current reviews [Internet]. 2020 [23.08.2022]; 40(2):[11 p.].
  2. Pandeya N, Wilson LF, Webb PM, Neale RE, Bain CJ, Whiteman DC. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of alcohol.Aust N Z J Public Health [Internet]. 2015 [29.08.2022]; 39(5):[408-13 pp.].
  3. Arriaga ME, Vajdic CM, Canfell K, MacInnis RJ, Banks E, Byles JE, et al. The preventable burden of breast cancers for premenopausal and postmenopausal women in Australia: A pooled cohort study. Int J Cancer [Internet]. 2019 Nov 1 [29.08.2022]; 145(9):[2383-94 pp.].
  4. Sinclair J, McCann M, Sheldon E, Gordon I, Brierley-Jones L, Copson E. The acceptability of addressing alcohol consumption as a modifiable risk factor for breast cancer: a mixed method study within breast screening services and symptomatic breast clinics. BMJ Open [Internet]. 2019 [23.08.2022]; 9(6):[e027371 p.].
  5. Calvert CM, Toomey T, Jones-Webb R. Are people aware of the link between alcohol and different types of Cancer? BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2021 [30.08.2022]; 21(1):[NA p.].
  6. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). Annual Alcohol Poll. 2020.
  7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia 2022 [30.08.2022].
  8. Agostino C, Middlemost R. The Impact of Femvertising on Pink Breast Cancer Products in Australia 2022 [29.08.2022]. In: The cultural politics of femvertising: selling empowerment [Internet]. Palgrave Macmillan.
  9. Taylor KA, Knibb JN. Don't give US pink ribbons and skinny girls: Breast cancer survivors' evaluations of cancer advertising. Health Marketing Quarterly [Internet]. 2019 [30.08.2022]; 36(3):[186-202 pp.].
  10. Dan Murphy's. Jim Barry X McGrath Foundation 2021 [01.09.2022].
  11. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer in Australia. 2021.
  12. Cancer Australia. Risk Factors 2022 [29.08.2022].
  13. Cancer Council. A guide to: Breast screening 2022 [30.08.2022].
  14. Cancer Australia. Breast Cancer in Young Women 2022 [01.09.2022].
  15. Cancer Australia. Protective Factors 2022 [31.08.2022].

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