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The More Alcohol You Drink, the Greater the Cancer Risk

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

By BuddyT

Given all of the scientific evidence that has accumulated over the years, there is no doubt that there is a link between drinking alcohol and several types of cancer.

In 2000, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services listed consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen for the first time.

Since then multiple studies have confirmed that the more alcohol you consume regularly over time the higher your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.

Alcohol consumption has clearly been linked to the development of the following types of cancer:

Head and Neck Cancer

Research has shown that alcohol consumption is definitely linked to head and neck cancers, particularly cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx. Drinkers who consume 3.5 or more drinks a day are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop these cancers.

Drinkers who also smoke tobacco are much more likely to develop head and neck cancers.

Esophageal Cancer

Alcohol has been found to be a major risk factor for developing a specific type of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. This is particular true for people who have inherited a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Again, drinkers who smoke run even more of a risk of developing esophageal cancers.

Liver Cancer

Drinking alcohol is not only an independent risk factor for liver cancer, it is a primary cause of it. Long-term alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer. The inflammation and scarring that chronic alcohol use can do to the liver may be a contributing factor.

Breast Cancer

The link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women has been confirmed by more than 100 epidemiologic studies. The increased risk of developing breast cancer is directly related to an increase in alcohol consumption.

One analysis of 58,000 cases of breast cancer in women found that women who drank 3 drinks per day had a 50 percent higher risk than nondrinkers. Another study found that even 1 drink per day elevated the risk of developing breast cancer.

A British study revealed that for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (less than 1 drink) there is a 12 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer.

The risk is particularly higher for women who do not get enough of the B vitamin folate.

Colorectal Cancer

Alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. People who regular drink 3.5 drinks a day have a 1.5 times greater risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to nondrinkers or even occasional drinkers.

For every 10 grams of alcohol consumed each day there is a 7 percent increase in the risk of developing colon or rectal cancers.

No Link to These Cancers

Multiple studies have found no association between alcohol consumption at the risk of these cancers:

  • Pancreas
  • Ovary
  • Prostate
  • Stomach
  • Uterus
  • Bladder

No one understands exactly why, but an increase in alcohol consumption has been linked to a decreased risk of renal cell (kidney) cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).


American Cancer Society. "Alcohol Use and Cancer." What Causes Cancer? Revised April 2017

National Cancer Institute. "Alcohol and Cancer Risk." Risk Factors Revised June 2013

Learn more about the effects of alcohol.


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