Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

It’s no secret that Americans like to drink; according to federal statistics, the average American adult consumes 2.3 gallons of alcohol every year. To put that in perspective, that equates to almost 500 drinks. While excessive alcohol consumption is often associated with liver problems, new research indicates that alcohol intake might also be linked to cancer risk.

Drink Up?

Appearing in the journal Lancet Oncology, this report was conducted by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer. Specifically, this group concluded that those who consume alcohol regularly face an elevated threat from various cancers, including breast colon and oral cancers. Even moderate and light drinkers were found to be at greater risk of cancer diagnosis.

The WHO team reviewed populations from all across the globe, and relied on both sales data and survey questionnaires to determine alcohol consumption levels. Using this information, along with other research on this topic, the authors were able to determine how alcoholic drinks affect cancer risk. In the country of Canada, for example, alcohol was believed to have a role in the onset of 7,000 cancer cases in 2020 alone. This figure included 13 percent of new liver cancer cases, 15 percent of rectal cancer diagnoses, a fifth of colon cancers and nearly a quarter of new breast cancer cases.

In the Blood

So what could possibly explain this connection? Study co-author Dr. Kevin Shield offered an explanation in a press release from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Alcohol causes cancer in numerous ways. The main mechanism of how alcohol causes cancer is through impairing DNA repair. Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis, and alcohol leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, leading to breast cancer.” Dr. Shield further noted that a steady drinking habit could also prove risky for smokers. “Alcohol also increases the risk of head and neck cancer for smokers as it increases the absorption of carcinogens from tobacco.”

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