Breast cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in women. Both Epidemiological and experimental studies indicate a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer. While alcohol exposure may promote the carcinogenesis or onset of breast cancer, it may as well enhance the progression and aggressiveness of existing mammary tumors. Recent progress in this line of research suggests that alcohol exposure is associated with invasive breast cancer and promotes the growth and metastasis of mammary tumors. There are multiple potential mechanisms involved in alcohol-stimulated progression and aggressiveness of breast cancer. Alcohol may increase the mobility of cancer cells by inducing cytoskeleton reorganization and enhancing the cancer cell invasion by causing degradation and reconstruction of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Moreover, alcohol may promote the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a hallmark of malignancy, and impair endothelial integrity, thereby increasing the dissemination of breast cancer cells and facilitating metastasis. Furthermore, alcohol may stimulate tumor angiogenesis through the activation of cytokines and chemokines which promotes tumor growth. Additionally, alcohol may increase the cancer stem cell population which affects neoplastic cell behavior, aggressiveness, and the therapeutic response. Alcohol can be metabolized in the mammary tissues and breast cancer cells which produces reactive oxygen species (ROS), causing oxidative stress. Recent studies suggest that the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family, particularly ErbB2 (a member of this family), is involved in alcohol-mediated tumor promotion. Breast cancer cells or mammary epithelial cells over-expressing ErbB2 are more sensitive to alcohol’s tumor promoting effects. There is considerable cross-talk between oxidative stress and EGFR/ErbB2 signaling. This review further discusses how the interaction between oxidative stress and EGFR/ErbB2 signaling contributes to the cellular and molecular events associated with breast cancer aggressiveness. We also discuss the potential therapeutic approaches for cancer patients who drink alcoholic beverages.

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Published in Pharmacological Research, v. 115, p. 299-308.

© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

This manuscript version is made available under the CC‐BY‐NC‐ND 4.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

The document available for download is the author's post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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This work is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (AA017226 and AA015407).