The health risks associated with heavy drinking are well documented, but many people may not know alcohol could potentially increase their risk of developing certain forms of cancer. Alcohol use has been linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, breast, pancreas and stomach. For each of these, the more you drink, the greater your risk.
Mouth, throat, voice box and esophagus cancer
There is clear evidence that alcohol use raises the risk of these cancers. If you use alcohol as well as tobacco, your risk for these cancers is even greater. This could be because alcohol can help harmful tobacco chemicals get inside cells that line the mouth, throat and esophagus. Alcohol can also limit how these cells repair damage to DNA caused by tobacco chemicals.
Long term use of alcohol has been linked to a greater risk of liver cancer. Heavy drinking on a regular basis can cause damage to the liver, including inflammation and scarring, which can increase your risk.
Colon and rectal cancer
There have also been studies that show a potential link between alcohol and colon and rectal cancer. Evidence is usually stronger in men than women, but studies have found the link in both genders.
Some studies have linked an increased risk of breast cancer in women with just a few drinks a week. This risk may be even higher in women who don’t get enough folate (a B vitamin). Alcohol can also raise estrogen levels, which could explain some increased risk. Decreasing alcohol consumption could be a key for some women to lower their breast cancer risk.
Does the type of alcohol matter?
In general, a standard size drink of any kind – 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor – contain the same amount. Overall, it is the amount of alcohol that one drinks, rather than the type, that appears to be the biggest factor in increasing cancer risk.
How does alcohol raise your risk?
The effects alcohol has on cancer risk aren’t completely understood, but some known effects of alcohol could have detrimental effects when it comes to cancer prevention. Alcohol can cause damage to body tissues, which may lead to cells repairing themselves, causing DNA changes that can lead to cancer. It can also slow the body’s ability to get rid of harmful chemicals and cause weight gain, both of which can increase your risk.
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Source: The American Cancer Society