Alcohol abuse is rampant across our nation, and its negative effects profuse within the bodies and minds of those that fall prey to this destruction. One of the greatest risks of alcohol abuse is an increased risk of cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) blatantly warns us of this connection, stating that “the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer.”
Chances are, over the course of your life, you will know someone with cancer. This is due to its high prevalence within our nation. The National Cancer Institute reports that in total, this year, there will be 1,685,210 newly diagnosed individuals within our nation, and 595,690 lives lost from this ravaging disease. They continue to warn us that 39.6% of people will develop cancer.
These statistics are frightening, but what is encouraging, and even empowering, is that by curtailing alcohol abuse and embracing sobriety, we have the power to reduce this risk in the long run.
Understanding The Connection
Your body sees alcohol as a poison. Taken in any amount, it still equates to the same thing—you are putting something in your body, that is essentially a toxin. Taken in larger quantities, as is characteristic of binge drinking or an alcohol addiction, the toxic burden increases. It is so toxic in fact, that the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services has listed it as a carcinogen within their 14th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).
A carcinogen, is, as defined by the American Cancer Society, “Substances and exposures that can lead to cancer.” In addition to alcohol itself being carcinogenic, various alcoholic substances may contain other carcinogens within their makeup, including, as noted by the RoC, “acetaldehyde, nitrosamines, aflatoxins, ethyl carbamate (urethane), asbestos, and arsenic compounds.”
Acetaldehyde is one of the main intermediate byproducts of alcohol metabolism, and various levels may actually exist in the beverage to begin with, most notably in the instance of wine, where it is actually responsible for a portion of the wine’s flavor profile. Acetaldehyde may be released in a person’s saliva, which has been shown to increase a person’s risk for oropharyngeal cancer. The NIC also notes that it may disrupt and damage the function of both DNA and protein within your body.
It is also thought that alcohol consumption directly impacts your body’s production of free-radicals, or cancer causing agents, due to the fact it contains substances that may stimulate their production, as asserted by the NCI. Free radicals cause oxidative damage within your body, specifically to cells, proteins, lipids, and even your DNA.
Alcohol affects your body in other ways. It is calorie laden, which often leads to a person gaining a significant amount of weight, a physical change which has been shown to create a greater propensity towards cancer. Heavy drinking can suppress your immune system which impairs your body’s ability to ward of disease and infection.
Lastly, alcohol actually inhibits your body from being able to derive critical nutrients and vitamins from your food that are actually preventative against cancer, including, as listed by the NCI, “vitamin A; nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate; vitamin C; vitamin D; vitamin E; and carotenoids.” Aside from this, people who drink large amounts of alcohol may be apt to consume foods that don’t offer these crucial nutritional elements to begin with.
Even Moderate Drinking Has Risks
In conversations and even research centered around the relationship between alcohol and cancer, the focus is commonly centered on heavy or excessive drinking. As a greater number of scientists devote themselves to studying this correlation, we’re coming to realize that this risk exists even when moderate amounts of alcohol are consumed.
A 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health published study findings that shed a little more light on this subject. What they found is quite disturbing. Researchers determined that those who consumed the least amount of alcohol within the study cohort (20 grams or less than 1.5 beverages a day) actually encountered what “accounted for 25% to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.” Despite the fact that a person’s cancer risk does increase with greater alcohol consumption, what made this even more shocking, is that this percentage of total alcohol-related cancer deaths was actually higher within this group than in those that drank more on a daily basis.
A more recent study, published in 2015, wrote of these concerns as specific to women, noting “that in women, light to moderate drinking was associated with an increased risk of cancers with an established link to alcohol consumption—that is, cancer of the colorectum, female breast, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, liver, and oesophagus.” They also found somewhat comparable findings in men who drink at these levels and that had at some point smoked.
In an article published on the growing concern between alcohol abuse and breast cancer, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism quoted Dr. Philip J. Brooks as saying “a recent epidemiologic study from Harvard found that women who reported binge-type drinking had higher breast cancer risk than those who did not…binge drinking by younger women could increase the risk of breast cancer later in life.”
The connection between pancreatic cancer and alcohol abuse warrants more research, however, one study asserts that “A history of binge consumption of large amounts of alcohol (≥5 drinks per drinking episode or >70 g alcohol per episode) conferred a 3.5-fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer in men.”
These findings urge us to consider the impact that binge drinking may have on various other types of cancer and a person’s risk factor.
Other Factors Paired With Alcohol Abuse May Increase The Risk
Certain other factors may also contribute to the impact that alcohol has on your cancer risk, and the specific forms of cancer you are at greater risk of developing, including genetics, or tobacco use. Tobacco is said to have solvent properties, in the capacity it may dissolve components within the alcohol, allowing them to more readily penetrate at-risk tissues. A person who smokes in conjunction with patterns of drinking has a higher risk of larynx, oral cavity, esophageal, and throat cancers.
Our genetic makeup influences the way our body processes, or metabolizes alcohol. Certain groups, such as those of Asian descent, may have a higher than active form of a certain enzyme involved in these roles, called alcohol dehydrogenase. Because of this, alcohol is more quickly converted to acetaldehyde. The National Cancer Institute cites that due to this, Japanese individuals have exhibited a higher danger of cancer of the pancreas.
Understanding The Risk Of Specific Cancers
Overall, alcohol creates an environment within your body that is weakened, and thus more susceptible to cancer risk, however, alcohol has been implicated as a risk factor within specific cancers.
Head and neck cancers — The Lancet Oncology study “Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages” published findings asserting that persons who consumed 50 g of alcohol (about 3.5 drinks) on a daily basis, encounter a two to three times greater risk of developing “cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus.” Alcohol can be very irritating on the delicate tissues of these regions, in turn, as the body strives to repair this damage, the DNA may be modified in a manner that predisposes these areas to cancer.
Esophageal cancers — The NCI cites that alcohol exerts a large effect on a person’s risk of developing esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
Liver cancer — Your liver is one of your primary organs within your body’s detoxification process. Because of this, this organ encounters large amounts of alcohol, causing inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis), one reason why this connection may exist. Again, as your body’s cells work towards repairing this harm, changes to the DNA could occur.
Breast cancer — This connection is highly researched, and supported by a wealth of scientific studies. One example, as published by the British Journal of Cancer, indicates that this connection is so great, that in terms of alcohol consumption on a daily basis, every increase of 10 grams (just under the equivalent of one drink), equates to a 7.1% greater risk. The NIC presented more information on this study which further quantified this correlation, outlining that when these levels reached 45 grams per day, the risk rose to 1.5 times that of those individuals who don’t drank. Other estimates proclaim an even higher risk, saying instead that there might be as high as a 12% increase for every 10 grams.
One prime reason for this relationship is that alcohol consumption has been linked to increased levels of the hormone estrogen, which has been associated with breast cancer. It has also been suggested that women with a folate deficiency may be at greater risk. This is the leading alcohol-related cancer in women, for this reason, alcohol abuse and addiction in women is of great concern.
Cancers of the colon and rectum — Colorectal cancer as linked to alcohol is of concern to men and women, however, there is evidence that suggests this concern is higher for men, in fact, it is the foremost alcohol-related cancer in men. Within these areas, certain bacteria transform the alcohol into acetaldehyde, in amounts that may heighten cancer risk. A reduction in folate may alter the impact in these areas.
If I Quit Drinking, Does My Cancer Risk Decrease?
If person quits drinking alcohol, their health will improve, however studies do show that in terms of cancer risks, it may take a significant amount of time before a person’s risk equals that of non-drinkers. The National Cancer Institute speaks of this concern, citing results from 13 studies on the subject which found that the risk did not decrease until a decade after cessation. The risk was still significant after 16 years, however, 5 studies did show that after 15 years the risk began to approach that of non-drinkers.
This is not reason to continue drinking, despite the lapse of time between quitting and the apparent benefits. The sooner you quit drinking, the sooner your body has the opportunity to begin regaining health and wellness and working towards this state of decreased risk.
We Can Help You Strive Towards Wellness
If you’re a moderate drinker and would like to know more about the health risks of alcohol, we can help to better inform you. However, if you suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction, we can not only offer you more resources on how this substance damages your body and mind, but ways that you can take control over your drinking and return your body to a better state of wellness. We can help you or a loved one go over various treatment options that can help you find balance and sobriety. Contact us at AlcoholTreatment.net today.
American Cancer Society — Alcohol Use and Cancer
National Cancer Institute — Alcohol and Cancer Risk
National Cancer Institute — Cancer Statistics
14th Report on Carcinogens — Alcoholic Beverage Consumption
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol Metabolism and Cancer Risk