Alcohol and Its Link to Cancer

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October 10, 2018
Alcohol and Its Link to Cancer

A variety of studies have shown that an occasional glass of red wine has been demonstrated to have a positive effect on heart health. Also, beer has been linked to “some benefit against cardiovascular disease”, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. And, at least one study by the European Journal of Cancer Prevention suggests alcohol could reduce the risk of Hodgkin lymphoma.

However, before you pop a cork and say “Cheers” this holiday season, there are some cancer-related risks you should be aware of. A growing number of studies suggest concerning links between the development of certain types of cancers and alcohol consumption.

Alcohol: A “Known and Probable Human Carcinogen”

Cancer occurs when changes occur to a cell’s DNA. Some changes occur as a result of hereditary factors, but other changes occur after the body is exposed to environmental factors. These introduced environmental factors don’t always cause cancer, but certain outside exposures and substances can contribute to the development of cancer. These are called carcinogens.

Carcinogens will not cause cancer in every case of exposure; however, they make it easier for cancer to develop over time. For example, it’s common knowledge that tobacco smoke is a carcinogen. Not every smoker will develop cancer, but they are all at a higher risk after exposure to the chemicals in cigarettes.

If you drink alcohol it’s not a surety that you’ll develop cancer. But the National Cancer Institute states there is evidence that the more alcohol a person drinks, regularly over time, the higher their risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer.

Your Risks Increase With The More Alcohol You Drink

According to the National Cancer Institute, clear patterns are associated with alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancers:

  • Breast Cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Head and Neck Cancers
  • Liver Cancer

Other types of cancers have been studied for links to alcohol consumption and cancer as well. Currently there is no association between bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer or uterine cancer; however, that may change in the future, with additional studies.

The American Cancer Society recommends drinking no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and no more than one per day for women.

The Sobering Conclusions of Alcohol Consumption

One study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013 concluded that alcohol consumption resulted in 3.2% – 3.7% of all cancer deaths in the United States. For women, the primary alcohol-related cancer resulting in death was breast cancer and in men, it was esophageal cancer or upper airway cancer. The study’s authors went on to conclude that “reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy.”

Another study performed on behalf of the Komen Foundation looked at nearly 100 breast cancer patients and concluded that consuming one or more alcoholic beverages per day increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol drinkers were 11% more likely to develop breast cancer than non-drinkers.

How Much Alcohol Should You Consume?

The American Cancer Society recommends drinking no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and no more than one per day for women.  This is in line with the amounts of alcohol shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The drink limit is lower for women because they typically have smaller bodies that tend to break down alcohol more slowly. The ACS does not recommend saving your week’s worth of drinks for one day of the week.

If you or a loved one is struggling to control the amount of alcohol being consumed each day it may be best to seek assistance through a local organization.