Reducing alcoholic intake is one of the most important preventable risk factors in relation to cancer. Alcohol use accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the United States. Despite this, over half of Americans use alcohol frequently.
Which cancers are related to alcohol usage?
The more alcohol one drinks, the higher their risk of cancer. Alcohol intake has been proven to be directly correlated with cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and of course, breast. It is likely that alcohol intake also increases one’s likelihood of developing stomach cancer.
How does alcohol increase one’s cancer risk?
There are several ways in which alcohol can increase one’s risk of cancer. Most notably, perhaps, is that the ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down into a known carcinogen. This compound damages DNA and can even stop cells from repairing the damage. Preventing cell repair allows space for cancerous cells to grow and proliferate.
Alcohol can also affect levels of hormones like estrogen, which directs cells to grow and divide. While some cell growth and division are necessary, these hormones do so at too rapid a pace. The more cells divide, the more chances there are for something to go wrong and for cancer to develop. Further, alcohol makes the body less able to break down and absorb several important nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D, E, and folate. These nutrients help protect the body against cancer.
Isn’t a glass of wine good for health?
There is a lot of conflicting evidence regarding the health benefits of a glass of wine. While some research suggests it is good for the heart, the majority of cancer experts ascertain that no amount of alcohol supports cancer prevention. The American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that no person start consuming alcohol for the assumed health benefits. However, the national dietary guidelines state that women should have no more than one drink per day and men no more than two.
What should cancer patients know about alcohol?
Alcohol should never be mixed with medication, and that includes cancer medication. In fact, alcohol can increase the side effects associated with cancer, including nausea, dehydration, and mouth sores. If patients have specific concerns or questions regarding their alcohol intake, it is best they speak to their doctor.
Are there other negative effects from drinking alcohol?
Alcohol has many short-term and long-term impacts on health. Short-term impacts can include effects on mood, concentration, coordination, and judgement. Longer-term impacts can include weight-gain (which is also a cancer risk factor), addiction, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. In pregnant women, alcohol use can lead to birth defects or other issues with the fetus.
Reducing or ceasing alcohol use is an important way to reduce one’s risk of cancer. However, there are many additional ways one can live a cancer-free lifestyle. Check out the National Foundation for Cancer Research’s cancer-fighting lifestyle blogs to learn more!
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