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February 1, 2018 | 2 minute read

Alcohol and Cancer: What’s the Risk

Most Americans are aware that heavy drinking can cause health problems, but did you know that even small amounts of alcohol can raise the risk of getting cancer? AICR’s awareness survey found that only 39 percent of people connect alcohol with cancer risk. So what is the connection and how can you protect yourself?

The Research

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) now classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen (like tobacco). AICR research shows that alcohol can increase the risk of several types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, esophagus, liver, colorectum, stomach, mouth, pharynx and larynx. For breast, colorectal, oral and stomach cancers, the increased risk is seen at even low levels of regular drinking.

The evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks increase the risk of cancers has grown over the years. That list includes the more common wine and beer, as well as vodka and other hard liquors. The World Health Organization estimates that between 4 percent and 25 percent of cancers are attributable to alcohol worldwide.

Scientists are still researching how alcohol causes cancer. Ethanol, the alcohol found in drinks, is a recognized carcinogen that may lead to DNA damage. Alcohol could also reduce folate absorption or help potential carcinogens enter cells.

The Recommendation

For cancer prevention, AICR recommends not drinking alcohol. However, our recommendations recognize that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on heart disease. If you do drink alcohol, do so moderately. Alcohol appears particularly harmful when combined with smoking.

Moderate consumption means:

• no more than one drink per day for women

• no more than two drinks per day for men

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