BRCA1 and BRCA2: Wine and Breast Cancer

Niche Wine Bar in Vancouver, Washington

Women have heard the message: Alcohol raises risk for breast cancer. If you do drink, limit alcohol to one drink a day. Blanket statements like these have value. The recommendation is crystal clear and applies to everyone. For a wine connoisseur like me, a BRCA-positive breast cancer survivor, this presents a dilemma. Is wine carcinogenic or is the one-size-fits-all alcohol directive not so cut and dried? It may just depend on what kind of a mutant you are.

The health benefits of wine have been scrutinized and while it does appear there are some modest benefits, all forms of alcohol can be quite problematic for humans. Why not just become a teetotaler and be done with it? My answer is that wine is an integral part of my life and work. My husband and I share this passion. When we married, guests were invited to a Zinfandel tasting and vow exchange at a Napa Valley winery. At one time we were the owners of a Malbec vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina. I wrote a book about our experiences.

The truth is I just freaking love everything about wine.

In 2011, the publication The Breast Journal published a small study from research completed at the Universities of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.  The purpose of this study was to validate the findings that link alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk. A total of 857 patients were studied, 43 of which were BRCA positive. The research found a striking difference between those patients who were BRCA1 versus BRCA2. The BRCA1 group showed a 62% lower risk of breast cancer than the general population if they were wine drinkers, but the BRCA2 group showed a 58% greater risk.

All studies like this must be taken with a grain of salt. The relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is not well understood, nor is the mechanism that may be at work to protect some and harm others. While both BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes, distinct differences exist for the risks associated with each. Science can only speculate at this point what may be behind this interesting finding. More research is needed.

In the meantime, I continue to imbibe and enjoy the juicy rationalization that perhaps, being a mutant of the BRCA1 variety is not such a bad thing, at least when it comes to the fruit of the vine.

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This entry was posted in Cancer.

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