Epidemiologic studies indicate that moderate alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk in women. Understanding the mechanistic basis of this relationship has important implications for women's health and breast cancer prevention. In this commentary, we focus on some recent epidemiologic studies linking moderate alcohol consumption to breast cancer risk and place the results of those studies within the framework of our current understanding of the temporal and mechanistic basis of human carcinogenesis. This analysis supports the hypothesis that alcohol acts as a weak cumulative breast carcinogen and may also be a tumor promoter. We discuss the implications of these mechanisms for the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related breast cancer and present some considerations for future studies. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health and recently been associated with healthy aging. Therefore, a better understanding of how moderate alcohol consumption impacts breast cancer risk will allow women to make better informed decisions about the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption in the context of their overall health and at different stages of their life. Such mechanistic information is also important for the development of rational clinical interventions to reduce ethanol-related breast cancer mortality.