Brewers and Beer for Breast Cancer

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on May 31, 2018

I recently attended a tap takeover in Chicago in support of “Bright Pink Chicago, ” one of a week-long series of breast cancer fundraisers sponsored by “Crafty Women of Chicago.”  There were many reasons this event appealed to me, a medical oncologist and beer aficionado:  it supported cancer research, it featured great beer, and it was sponsored by a group of women in the craft beer industry.  “Chug it Like a Lady,” reads their T-shirts!

What do women have to do with craft beer?  And what does beer have to do with breast cancer?

According to a recent poll, beer has supplanted white wine as the first choice of drink for 18 to 34-year-old US women. Along with this increased interest in beer comes an increased interest in craft beer brewing.  Women are increasingly finding a place in the craft beer industry, becoming brewers, brewery workers, distributors, brewery coordinators, and taproom specialists. Support groups and networking organizations are starting to appear.

In Chicago, a group of these women started Crafty Women Chicago, led by Liz Waldron, a distributor for Saugatuck Brewery. Liz is shown here with me, wearing her “Chug it Like a Lady” T-shirt. In addition to promoting women in the industry and networking, CWC collaborates with women-centered local charities and social programs to create unique fundraising opportunities.

The Tap Takeover for Breast Cancer Awareness was one of their fun charitable events, held at Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery, in Chicago. I had a great time, met a few interesting craft women from around the Chicago area, and I even met a cancer survivor, shown below with her swag. I tasted a number of fantastic beers, brewed by women-friendly breweries associated with CWC. At the event, I tasted IPAs from Saugatuck and Metropolitan breweries, and enjoyed “Pinky,” a wheat beer brewed with cherries, created by a woman brewer, Marilee Rutherford, of Twisted Hippo Brewery in collaboration with Metropolitan Brewing Company.  Flying Hippo is in the process of opening their first brewery and brewpub this summer, where Merilee and her husband will be the brewer-owners. Their beer, Pink, was tasty, refreshing and PINK!  Just the thing for a breast cancer benefit!

What about beer and breast cancer? There has been a lot of recent press suggesting that “even one beer a day can cause breast cancer.” These allegations were based on a 2017 report from the UK Cancer Research Council that summarized a number of previously published survey studies looking at breast cancer associations. The UK report concluded that there is a slight increase in breast cancer among women who drink 1 to 3 drinks per day, with risk rising as the amount consumed increased. In the UK, the risk of breast cancer is 11.6 per 100 women, and it increases to 12.1 per 100 women with 1-3 drinks per day. This is not an alarming rise, and other lifestyle factors have a much higher impact, such as using estrogen hormones, being overweight, or not exercising; these other factors that are often ignored when pointing to alcohol as a cause of breast cancer.

Should you drink or abstain? It depends on your goals, and you’ll have to use your own judgment, because drinking alcohol has also been associated with many health benefits, including improving heart health and increasing longevity. And there is yet to be a scientific explanation for any of these associations, whether positive or negative. Someone with a high cancer risk might want to consider cutting down a bit, but I wouldn’t recommend it across the board, and not to the exclusion of exercising and losing weight.

As an oncologist, I don’t counsel that my cancer patients to give up alcohol completely, unless it interacts with their medications or they have liver disease. For a person who is used to sharing a drink with spouse or friends, continuing that tradition is so important to a cancer patient’s social life, relaxation, and the feeling of “normalcy” that is so easy to lose when you have cancer. A nice cold beer provides great hydration and mineral replacement, and stimulates feeble appetites.People receiving chemotherapy often find that their tastes have changed and they no longer can abide the bitterness of hops. One brewery has decided to address this challenge by creating a beer for women with breast cancer that is lower in hop flavor, is sweeter, and is alcohol free. It’s called Mamma Beer, and was created by Zatec Brewery for the Czech breast cancer organization, Mamma HELP. This limited-release beer was commissioned by Tereza Sverakova, CCO of the ad agency Y&R Prague, herself a breast cancer survivor. The beer was distributed by pharmacies and given out for free at oncology hospitals, and was showcased at the Prague Beer and the Prague Marathon. I’d love to see similar beer produced by a women brewer here in the US.


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