Findings from a recent study indicate that survivors of breast cancer may be at risk of cancer-related adverse events while following current guidelines that advise a safe limit of alcohol consumption of up to 1 drink per day. The study results, based on a literature review, were published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.1

“Studies that assessed alcohol consumption postdiagnosis found more associations between alcohol consumption and breast cancer recurrence than studies focusing only on prediagnosis alcohol consumption,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Alcohol consumption is both associated with primary breast cancer and may even be a tumor promoter, the researchers who conducted the study explained in their report. The potential for alcohol to increase circulating estrogen levels may also pose a risk for cancer recurrence, they suggested in their report, while also noting that light consumption of alcohol may provide cardiovascular benefits, complicating recommendations about its consumption.

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In their review of literature, the researchers used PubMed® and CINAHL® databases to find cohort studies published between 2010 and 2020 with keywords involving breast cancers, alcohol, cancer recurrence, and cancer survivors. A total of 9 studies were considered to fit criteria for inclusion in this review.

A higher risk of breast cancer recurrence was found in survivors with moderate-to-heavy drinking habits, versus light drinking habits, in 2 studies. Moderate-to-heavy drinking involved consumption of 1 to 2 drinks per day or more, and light drinking in this analysis involved less than 1 drink per day.

A total of 4 studies found that light consumption of alcohol was associated with a higher risk of recurrence or breast cancer-specific mortality, compared with abstaining from alcohol consumption. Light consumption was defined for this comparison as below 0.5 g/day of alcohol or less than one-fourth of a drink per week. However, 3 studies determined that light alcohol consumption was associated with no additional risk of breast cancer recurrence, in addition to lower all-cause mortality. In 1 of these studies, fewer cardiovascular mortalities were seen with moderate alcohol consumption.

The researchers determined that while some studies suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with lower mortality risks and no effects on breast cancer recurrence or a new diagnosis of primary breast cancer, they cautioned other studies have shown different results.

The researchers concluded that oncology nurses have a role in educating breast cancer survivors, with nurses providing evidence-based information on alcohol consumption before and after treatment and into survivorship. ”In particular, they can inform patients about the benefits of reducing alcohol consumption to less than three drinks per week, particularly for postmenopausal survivors,” the researchers wrote in their report.


  1. Terry KM, Mayer DK, Wehner KA. Alcohol consumption: discussing potential risks for informed decisions in breast cancer survivors. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2021;25(6):672-679. doi:10.1188/21.CJON.672-679