Most women questioned in a survey were unaware that drinking alcohol or being obese could increase their risk of developing breast cancer, according to a Cancer Research UK and Bupa study presented today (Sunday) at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

More than a quarter of female breast cancer cases in the UK each year could be prevented largely through lifestyle factors such as keeping a healthy weight and drinking less alcohol*.

But when researchers gave a questionnaire to 206 women, who were either having a breast screening mammogram or were at a clinic having possible breast cancer symptoms checked out, they discovered that less than a quarter knew that alcohol could increase their breast cancer risk. And even if they did know, at least half of the women didn’t know how much alcohol was in a glass of wine and a pint of beer.**

Researchers also found that less than a third of the women recognised that obesity could increase some people’s risk of developing the disease. And almost a quarter of the women (23 per cent) were unable to name any risk factors for breast cancer at all.***

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton. They wanted to discover more about how much women already know about breast cancer risk – to help decide whether it might be a good idea to give women advice on ways to reduce risk and help prevent breast cancer at mammogram or clinic appointments.

Every year in the UK, more than 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and – though survival has doubled in the last 40 years – around 11,600 females die from the disease.

There are ways women can potentially reduce their breast cancer risk – including drinking less alcohol and keeping a healthy weight. But most of the women we questioned didn’t know this. It’s also worrying that so few of the women we questioned knew how much alcohol was in various drinks. The more alcohol you drink, the more your risk of breast cancer increases – but making a decision about whether or how to cut back is more difficult if women aren’t sure about the alcohol content of different drinks.

Dr Ellen Copson, associate professor of medical oncology


This study highlights that women aren’t always aware that lifestyle changes can have an impact on breast cancer risk. We need to find the best time and place to provide this information and use these opportunities to help women know what choices can be made to cut their chances of developing the disease.

Dr Daniel Rea, chair of the NCRI breast cancer clinical studies group