Alcohol and Cancer

Alcohol and Cancer

I decided to see what the preponderance of evidence says about alcohol consumption and cancer risk.   According to three major cancer research organizations, there is convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver and breast, pancreas, stomach as well as colorectal cancer.

Here is a summary of what I found from three major cancer research organizations.

The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR)

The evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks increase the number of cancers is now stronger than it was in the mid 1990’s.  Scientists are still researching how alcohol causes cancer.  One theory is that alcohol can directly damage our DNA, increasing risk of cancer.  Research shows that alcohol is particularly harmful when combined with smoking.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related.

How does the combination of alcohol and tobacco affect cancer risk?

Epidemiologic research shows that people who use both alcohol and tobacco have much greater risks of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx (throat), larynx and esophagus than people who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.  In fact, for oral and pharyngeal cancers, the risks associated with using both alcohol and tobacco are multiplicative, that is, they are greater than would be expected from adding the individual risks associated with alcohol and tobacco together.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

The more alcohol you drink the higher your risk for all alcohol-associated cancers.

Breast cancer: Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. This risk may be especially high in women who do not get enough folate (a B vitamin) in their diet or through supplements. Alcohol can also raise estrogen levels in the body, which may explain some of the increased risk. Cutting back on alcohol may be an important way for many women to lower their risk of breast cancer.

What does the American Cancer Society recommend?

As part of its guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recommends that people who drink alcohol limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

The recommended limit is lower for women because of their smaller body size and because their bodies tend to break down alcohol more slowly. These daily limits do not mean it’s safe to drink larger amounts on fewer days of the week, which can still lead to health, social, and other problems.

My Brief Thoughts

The preponderance of the current evidence suggests that if you want to give yourself the best chance to avoid a variety of cancers, abstaining from alcohol consumption is the best choice

Stay healthy and strong!

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