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What Is The Link Between Cancer and Alcohol?

Updated: Sep 3, 2023


What Is the Alcohol and Cancer Risk?


Many people are aware that alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of chronic disease. Liver disease in particular is a well-known result of excessive consumption of alcohol. But what you may or may not be aware of, is that alcohol is actually a known human carcinogen. Researchers have known about the link between alcohol and cancer for many years in fact.


So, how does it work? When we consume alcohol, our bodies produce a carcinogen called acetaldehyde when the alcohol is metabolized. Research has shown that essentially any amount of alcohol consumption, however small, leads to cancer risk. Therefore there is no amount that is “safe.” However, studies have also shown that when large quantities of alcohol are consumed in one sitting, more acetaldehyde is produced, so the risk is greater in that instance.


Additionally, when alcohol is consumed in excess, it damages the tissue that it comes into contact with (for example in our throats and stomachs), so that is another way in which alcohol can pose a cancer risk.


Who is at risk?

Of the studies available on this subject, research has shown that actually, no one is immune to the risk. People of all demographics - including age, health level, and lifestyle are all at risk for developing cancer after any amount of alcohol consumption.


Link Between Cancer and Alcohol: Americans Very Unaware

What is most alarming about this topic, is that the vast majority of people are completely unaware that drinking alcohol poses this risk! In fact, there is even a common misconception that a glass of red wine a night can be good for your health long-term. A recent study showed that of a group of Americans polled, over 50% were unaware that alcohol is a risk factor for cancer, and 10% believed that wine actually decreases cancer risk. Yikes!

[Resources: health.com]


Alcohol poses a lower risk for cancer than some other known carcinogens, (smoking for example), but according to the WHO, it is indeed a risk factor in several different types of cancer including mouth, esophageal, pharynx & larynx, breast, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancers.

[Resources: WHO]




So What Should We Do?

So given these facts - the risk of alcohol to cancer and the fact that so many Americans are completely unaware that there is a link between alcohol and cancer, what should we do?


Canada and some European countries have taken this information from the WHO and adopted much lower “acceptable” alcohol consumption levels in their public health recommendations (zero in fact in Canada), but that is unlikely to be the case here in the US any time soon. Therefore, it is up to us to make informed choices for ourselves.


Unfortunately, alcohol is such a large part of our culture, particularly around how we socialize. So, can we find alternative ways to socialize without alcohol? Or alternative ways to cope with our stress and anxiety without alcohol?


As a cancer survivor myself, it is my hope that our cancer diagnosis rates in the US decrease over time. So beginning by sharing this information is an important step!


Cancer Coach

Looking for help dealing with a cancer diagnosis? Or maybe you are looking for someone to talk through other concerns in your life with - such as techniques for dealing with stress. If this is the case, please reach out to me!


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