Mary Roth was diagnosed with breast cancer at 52. She always wondered why she developed the disease but her three sisters did not. “I drank and drink more alcohol than my sisters ever did,” Roth wrote to Mother Jones. “I suspected that was what caused my breast cancer. It makes sense. Now I am convinced.”
Roth is one of the more than 400 readers who have written in since reporter Stephanie Mencimer shared her personal tale and investigation into the link between alcohol and breast cancer. Mencimer chronicles how her own experience with breast cancer led her to discover the science clearly connecting alcohol to cancer—and the booze industry’s efforts to downplay the risk. “More than 100 studies over several decades have reaffirmed the link,” Mencimer explains.
After reading the story, several readers talked about the mixed feelings they now had. “Holy crap! I like alcohol. I have an average of one drink a day … This is a compelling article,” wrote Linda L. Another reader, Suzan, found that the link between alcohol and breast cancer was “hard to reconcile with my otherwise health-obsessed lifestyle (organic foods, yoga, walking, avoiding lurking carcinogens in other forms.) I pride myself on keeping up with health news. I have a love/hate relationship with this article.” Others expressed frustration with the business behind the story, “The alcoholic beverage industry is working hard to make us customers just as the tobacco industry has done in the past,” wrote Julie Houston.
Many of our readers are grappling with what this investigation means for their lives. “This is shocking and hard to swallow,” wrote Isabel. “I’m 23 and my social life revolves around drinking moderately—sometimes drinking a lot.” While some readers say they were reconsidering their drinking habits, others were more definitive about giving up alcohol altogether. “I will never drink again,” writes Elaine Guenette.
Several people wrote to us about a loved one who died from breast cancer, wondering if drinking played a role in the disease. “I lost a good friend whose children were patients of mine,” wrote Arthur Mollin. “She hosted many wine tastings and back then, we frequently got together for some intense wine indulgences. She died of breast cancer as did her mother. We, of course, didn’t factor in the alcohol. I wonder, I wonder.”
While many readers took the article as a much-needed public health warning, some were skeptical. “I should be dead by now if drinking alcohol causes breast cancer,” Rose Houser wrote. Some aren’t convinced alcohol is something the public needs to be especially cautious about. Eric Radent, a cancer survivor, wrote, “My advice is to forget about all of this advice from the professionals and do all things in moderation. Drink wine, eat meat, etc., and enjoy your life.”
Around 40 people who have or had breast cancer reached out, and many of them said they wished they had understood the risks of drinking. “I’m a breast cancer survivor and have to admit I still drink, but less, and often feel guilty when I do,” wrote Kim Mollin, who’s also one of the many parents who tell us they’re worried about their children’s drinking habits. “It makes me very fearful for my daughters who drink way more than I did. I will continue to be more careful but the information needs to come from more objective sources like this, to our children.”
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Update: We hosted a Facebook Live Q&A with Stephanie on April 19 and incorporated many of your questions and reactions. Watch it here.
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