Saturday 29 June 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Alcohol and breast cancer

"If we give up drinking will we avoid the return of our cancer? Do we worry our friends look at us a little oddly if we have a drink, are they thinking, well, she shouldn’t be drinking, she’s had cancer. Or, do we find others thinking we’re party poopers because we’ve chosen not to drink anymore?”

Always a controversial topic, we talked about alcohol and breast cancer in this week’s discussion.

Naz explained to us that she had read up on the subject to try to provide a balanced view of the evidence to support, or not, a link between alcohol use and breast cancer. 

Her conclusion - the jury is out: some studies appear to find a correlation, while others may go so far as to suggest that a small amount is beneficial in preventing breast cancer. One challenge is that studies consistently fail to account for other factors and many rely on self-reporting which can be unreliable. They don't factor in the many different types of breast cancer, and they don’t differentiate between primary cancer and the risk of it returning, either as recurrence or secondary. All in all, Naz told us, the view is confused and inconclusive.

As women who have all had a breast cancer diagnosis, whether primary or secondary, we gave a wide variety of views and personal stories related to our drinking  habits. Some of us have never had a drink. Some of us used to be heavy drinkers and have now moderated our drinking habits. Others did not drink before diagnosis but have now decided to take a tipple now and again. Some of us have chosen to give up alcohol since our diagnosis, sometimes as a way of regaining control over our health, but often because we feel just plain ill if we drink! Some have not changed their drinking habits much following diagnosis. 

Many of us look around following our diagnosis to try to find something or someone to explain how we developed breast cancer. We may look at our family history, or examine our lifestyles with a fine tooth comb. Some of us would like to find a reason for our diagnosis since this offers us the opportunity and hope that if we change our behaviour following our diagnosis we can keep ourselves healthy for the rest of our lives. 

Can we blame alcohol, give up drinking, be cured? (or for that matter weight gain - we go on a diet and we are well? Or stress, we calm down and relax, and we won’t get sick?)

This, of course, is magical thinking. 

The list of possible causes is long and varied, and there is evidence to suggest that some types of breast cancer can take many years to develop. We look back to our lifestyles and events from years ago. Could it be the age at which we hit puberty, we wonder? The age at which we gave birth to our children? Whether we breast fed our children? Whether we took the pill or HRT or had a Mirena coil fitted? 

Was it what we ate? How little exercise we did? Our weight? Whether we smoked? Or something fixed such as blood type, a faulty gene, family history? 

We can be disappointed to discover that no one factor is involved. Getting breast cancer is, at the end of the day, just rotten luck. 

Some of us find it empowering to take control of things like of our diet and alcohol use. But there can also be a huge pressure to make changes to our lifestyle at a time when we are psychologically vulnerable. Even worse, some of us had experienced critical comments if we don’t make any changes. The upsetting assumption being that we brought this on ourselves in some way.

If we give up drinking will we avoid the return of our cancer? Are we concerned that our friends might look at us a little oddly if we have a drink, are they thinking, well, she shouldn’t be drinking, she’s had cancer. Or, do we find our friends thinking we’re party poopers because we’ve chosen not to drink anymore?

Our choices around alcohol may be affected by our treatments, for example chemotherapy can make us feel nauseous and can intensify the impact of alcohol on us. For others, a little drink is a pick me up during a difficult time. Some of us felt that hormonal treatments can enhance the effects of alcohol and intensify hangovers. 

Whatever our position, we want to make informed choices based on current knowledge, how we feel about alcohol and how alcohol makes us feel when we drink it. We don’t need to be made to feel to blame!

For many of us, enjoying a drink or two is a regular activity and represents the balance between enjoying life and remaining healthy. It is a way of relaxing that many of us are happy with, and we feel we’ve earned it!

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group, please send us a private message via the Facebook page. 


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