AICR’s analysis of the global research has continued to show over the years that drinking alcohol regularly – even light drinking – increases the risk of certain cancers.
Now a major oncology organization, The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), has identified alcohol as a definite risk factor for cancer for the first time, citing AICR/WCRF reports as evidence. The statement, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, aims to raise awareness of this link for both the general public and oncologists.
AICR research shows that alcohol increases the risk of breast, esophageal, liver, colorectal, stomach, mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers. The amount seen to increase risk ranges from light to heavy drinking. AICR’s latest report on breast cancer, for example, found that even one glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage a day can increase the risk of this cancer. Increased risk for liver cancer was linked to heavier drinking.
There are several possible ways alcohol may play a role in cancer development. Alcohol may lead to DNA damage, reduce folate absorption and help potential carcinogens enter cells.
For cancer prevention, AICR recommends not to drink alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
The ASCO statement also offers several evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce drinking high amounts of alcohol, such as:
- Provide alcohol screening and brief interventions in clinical settings
- Increase alcohol taxes and prices
- Maintain limits on days and hours of sale
- Restrict youth exposure to advertising of alcoholic beverages
- Include alcohol control strategies in comprehensive cancer control plans
- Support efforts to eliminate the use of “pinkwashing” to market alcoholic beverages. (i.e., discouraging companies from exploiting the color pink when selling alcohol to show a commitment to breast cancer given the evidence that alcohol increases risk of this cancer).
The ASCO statement also highlights the health impact of alcohol among cancer patients. Research is still in its early stages, but evidence suggests that alcohol can delay or negatively impact cancer treatment, states ASCO. Oncologists are uniquely positioned to identify strategies to help their patients reduce their alcohol use; address racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation disparities that may place these populations at increased cancer risk; and raise the awareness of alcohol as a cancer risk behavior.
For more evidence-based steps to lower cancer risk, see AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.