Library / We care about / Alcohol and Cancer  

Alcohol and Cancer

Experts have known since 1987 that alcohol can cause cancer, but the connection between the two is often unknown, or ignored. A Eurobarometer survey has shown that 1 in 5 Europeans (21%) do not believe in the link between alcohol and cancer, with a further tenth unsure.

Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for cancer

Among male and female lifetime consumers, the risk for all the cancers increases with each additional daily drink.

Regular consumption of even 18g of alcohol per day increases the risk of breast cancer
18g is equivalent to just under: 2 regular glasses of wine or champagne, 1.3 pints of beer or nearly 6cl of whiskey

Likewise, it is confirmed an increased risk in colorectal cancer for regular drinkers of 50g of alcohol per day.

Together, smoking and alcohol have a synergistic effect on cancer risk, meaning the combined effects of use are significantly greater than the sum of individual risks.

Alcohol use may contribute to weight (fat) gain, and greater body fatness is a convincing cause of cancer of the oesophagus, pancreas, bowel, endometrium, kidney and breast.

NEW European Code Against Cancer recommends:

If you drink alcohol of any type, limit your intake. Not drinking alcohol is better for cancer prevention.

Alcohol-attributable cancers:

– Upper aerodigestive tract (44%)

– liver cancer

– bowel cancer

– colorectal cancer (17%)

– breast cancer (5%)

* Please note percentage of alcohol attributable cancers are according to various studies

Why does alcohol cause cancer?

There are a number of biological mechanisms that may explain alcohol’s contribution to cancer development.

– Ethanol may cause cancer through the formation of acetaldehyde, its most toxic metabolite.

– Acetaldeyhde has mutagenic and carciongenic properties, and bonds with DNA to increase the risk of DNA mutations and impaired cell replication.

– Ethanol may also cause direct tissue damage by irritating the epithelium and increasing the absorption of carcinogens through its effects as a solvent.

– In addition, alcohol can increase the level of hormones such as oestrogen, thereby increasing breast cancer risk, and increase the risk of liver cancer by causing cirrhosis of the liver, increased oxidative stress, altered methylation and reduced levels of retinoic acid.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor oral hygiene, and certain nutrient deficiencies (folate, vitamin B6, methyl donors) or excesses (vitamin A/ Beta carotene), owing to poor diet or self- medication, may also increase the risk for alcohol-associated tumours.

The effect of alcohol is different for men and women.

For women, drinking alchohol contributes to the risk of cancers of the pharynx, larnyx, oesophegous, colorectum and breasts (based on 25g per day)

For men, there is a low risk of lung cancer, stomach, colon and rectum. A medium risk in the oesophagus, the larynx and liver and a higher risk in the oral cavity.

Research findings and other resources

There is a lot of scientific evidence out there proving the link between alcohol and cancer, we have selected a few here for your reference

The Burden of Cancer Attributable to Alcohol Drinking

International Journal of Cancer, August, 2006. 10.1002/ijc.21903
Paolo Boffetta, Mia Hashibe, Carlo La Vecchia, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm

Alcohol and Cancer

Report from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK

Alcohol and Cancer Risks – A Guide for Health Professionals

Produced by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, 2012

AMPHORA study- average European drinks alcohol at the toxic level for causing cancer

As part of the AMPHORA project, Dirk Lachenmeier and Jürgen Rehm of Dresden Technical University in Germany analysed toxic substances in samples of alcohol from all over Europe.