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Alcohol and Colorectal Cancer Risk

thumbnail link to alcohol serving chart

See full-size chart.

AICR’s recommendation for alcohol

If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.

The expert panel developed the recommendations for cancer prevention, but they also considered impact on total health. Because there is some evidence that moderate alcohol may be beneficial for heart health, the expert panel took that into account. Keep in mind, however, the best protection against cancer is to avoid alcohol.

Regularly drinking alcohol of any kind – wine, beer, liquor – increases risk for several cancers, including colorectal. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and AICR is focusing on alcohol as one of several lifestyle factors that affect Americans’ risk for this deadly, but preventable cancer.

The AICR/WCRF expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective and the latest Continuous Update Project on colorectal cancer showed that for every 10 grams per day of alcohol consumed (less than 1 standard drink), men’s risk increases by 11 percent, and women's risk increases by 7 per cent for colorectal cancer.  Alcohol also ups the risks for breast, oral, esophageal and liver cancers.

How Many Drinks in One Glass?

If you do drink, you can minimize your risk by limiting how many drinks you have and controlling portions. But, do you know what one standard drink size is? Just like many food portions, wine glasses and specialty cocktails have become super-sized.  An alcoholic beverage you get at a bar or restaurant may actually contain enough alcohol to qualify as 3 or more drinks.

One standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol and is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1½ ounces of liquor (80 proof).

Not Just the Alcohol….

As with many other beverages, beer, wine and mixed drinks also contain calories that add up fast and can lead to too much body fat, another cause of colorectal cancer. Although it doesn’t seem like you’re getting many calories when you drink, you are – and they probably don’t fill you up as much as many foods would. In the chart below, you can compare the number of calories in some typical alcoholic drinks to calories in more filling foods.

The bottom line for alcohol and cancer – if you drink, keep your amount small and occasions infrequent.

 Beverage ServingCalories (average)  Foods with Equal Calories
 Beer  12 oz  150  2 slices bread
 Light beer  12 oz  110  1 medium sweet potato
 80-proof liquor: gin, rum, vodka, tequila, whiskey  1½ oz  98  1 medium apple
 Liqueurs  1½ oz  188 1 cup spaghetti
 Red wine  5 oz  125 1½ cup blueberries
 White wine  5 oz  121  2¼ cups strawberries
 Margarita  4 oz  168  1½ cups Cheerios
 Pina Colada  9 oz  460  Quarter Pounder
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