A large body of evidence consistently shows that consumption of alcohol is a risk factor for cancer.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of:
- mouth & throat cancer (larynx and pharynx)
- stomach and oesophageal cancer
- bowel cancer (colon and rectum)
- liver cancer
- female breast cancer.
It’s not just heavy drinking – even small amounts of alcohol increases risk, but the more you drink, the greater the risk. Your risk of cancer is the same for all types of alcohol including beer, wine and spirits; and there’s no evidence that alcohol helps protect you from any type of cancer.
How much should I drink?
To reduce the risk of cancer, you should limit your intake of alcohol or, better still, avoid it all together.
If you do choose to drink, we recommend drinking no more than 2 standard drinks a day, which is within the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.
Tips for drinking less
Limiting alcohol doesn’t need to limit your lifestyle. If you choose to drink:
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones like sparkling or plain water (soda, lime and bitters is a great alternative to alcohol).
- Eat some food when you drink alcohol. Think of a glass of wine or beer as something to have with a meal rather than on its own.
- Dilute alcoholic drinks, for example, try a shandy (beer and lemonade) or white wine and mineral water.
- Choose a low-alcohol (or no-alcohol) beer and/or wine.
- Use water to quench your thirst and sip alcoholic drinks slowly.
- Offer to be the designated driver when you go out so you drink less, but make sure you stay under .05.
- Avoid binge drinking (a single occasion of heavy drinking over a short period of time).
- Have at least 1 or 2 alcohol-free days each week.
How does drinking cause cancer?
Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen . This is the highest classification available and means that it is an acknowledged cause of cancer. It is estimated that 2,950 cases of cancer are attributable to long-term chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.
There is convincing evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophagus, bowel in men (colon and rectum), liver and female breast. There is probable evidence that alcohol increases cancers of the stomach and female bowel.
There are a number of ways that may explain how alcohol causes cancer, such as:
Alcohol (ethanol in alcoholic drinks) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde which causes damage to our DNA and stops cells from repairing.
Ethanol may also cause direct tissue damage by acting as a solvent for other carcinogens.
Increasing the level of hormones, such as oestrogen, which are linked to breast cancer.
Indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to obesity and overweight, which are linked to cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, breast, bowel.
Altered folate metabolism, affecting cell function.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor oral hygiene and poor diet may also increase the risk of cancers caused from drinking alcohol regularly.
It is clear how evident the dangers of alcohol are and how directly it can affect our wellbeing. The message however needs to be spread more widely as our Australian drinking culture currently overshadows the serious health risks that come with consuming alcohol over a lifetime.