The Link Between Alcohol Abuse And Cancer

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Within the United States alcohol use is exceedingly prevalent; the amount of people that use alcohol in moderate proportions is significant and on the rise.

Today, cancer is so prevalent that a great many Americans know someone personally affected by this potentially ravaging disease. The SEER Cancer Statistics Review estimates that roughly 39.6 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer within their life; while an article published on quoted Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program as saying “among U.S. residents, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer at some point in their lifetimes.”

However you look at it, statistics show that cancer will likely become something you, or someone you love, will contend with. The unfortunate and shocking truth is that for a disease that is so prevalent, and for one that can be so deadly, people do not always know what can increase their risk.

Even Moderate Levels Of Alcohol Can Increase Your Risk

RiskWhen people think about alcohol use and the dangers accompanying with it, they may many times think of the risks as being solely associated with either abuse or alcoholism; though it is true that these things carry a wide range of dangers and health concerns, what people must consider is that research is beginning to show more and more that even small amounts of alcohol can increase a person’s chance of getting certain cancers.

What many Americans fail to realize is that even within the moderate range—or what some people may consider to be social drinking—a person may be increasing their probability of developing certain types of cancer. Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as “up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.”

A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that “alcohol consumption resulted in an estimated 18 200 to 21 300 cancer deaths, or 3.2 percent to 3.7 percent of all US cancer deaths.” Researchers determined that of these deaths, 25 percent to 35 percent were attributed to those that drank 1.5 drinks or less per day, a number that falls right between the guidelines of what is considered to moderate for men and women. The study went on to say that “our findings add to the growing research evidence showing that, in addition to risks at high consumption levels, regular alcohol use at low consumption levels is also associated with increased cancer risk.”

The Public Isn’t Aware Of This Risk

This knowledge is to the scientific community nothing new, but sadly there is a divide between what they know and what your average citizen understands. Medscape reminds us that “in 1988, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that alcohol was a carcinogen,” or a cancer-causing agent.

CDCThe CDC states that “alcohol affects every organ in the body.” This may come as a shock, as some people may think that alcohol only affects the organs that are responsible for processing it, such as the liver. Though it is true that alcohol does wreak havoc on this organ, what we’re realizing is that many people fail to understand exactly to what extent alcohol can raise your risk of cancer, and also what cancers, specifically it increases.

According to a recent report commissioned and published by Cancer Research UK, there is a vast discrepancy between public opinion and knowledge and scientific fact. When queried, 80 percent of the study participants attributed alcohol to liver cancer, whereas only 18 percent did to breast cancer. This is in stark comparison to the actual numbers—in the UK there were 400 cases of liver cancer and 3,200 cases of breast cancer each year that were documented as being related to alcohol use—numbers that illustrate the opposite of what people were most apt to think on the subject.

Within this study group, only 12.9 percent of unprompted people reported that they knew of the association between alcohol and cancer; when prompted, this number only rose to 47 percent, leaving 1 in 3 people yet unaware of this connection. Less than half of the people that responded realized that breast or mouth and throat cancers could be linked to an “increased risk at low-drinking levels.” This illustrates with frightening clarity, the disparity of knowledge, and in turn the lack of information that people have on this subject.

A similar study, The American Institute for Cancer Research’s 2015 Cancer Risk Awareness Survey Report showed that in the US, despite a 5 percent increase since 2013, only 43 percent of Americans polled for the survey attributed alcohol to being linked to cancer risk.

Why Does Alcohol Increase Your Risk Of Cancer?

Currently, scientists don’t fully understand how alcohol influences the risk for cancer. They do know that there are numerous ways that the risks increase, and also that these factors may be unique to the specific type of cancer. The following are the ways that they theorize, based on current research, how alcohol causes damage and creates this greater possibility.

Tissue Damage: Alcohol can be invasive and irritating, especially to the delicate tissues within the mouth and throat. It is theorized that this—even more so with regular or heavy use—can cause damage on a cellular level. As the alcohol is processed, various byproducts result. These, and the alcohol itself may inflame the liver, which could then lead to scarring. As those cells strive to repair and regain balance, alterations in their DNA may occur, which may then set the foundation for the growth of cancerous cells.

Chemical Interactions: As your body processes the alcohol, its chemical properties change; at certain stages within the colon and rectum bacteria convert it to acetaldehyde—in some degree, this chemical also occurs in our mouths and gut linings as a result of bacteria that break down portions of the alcohol. In clinical trials with laboratory animals this chemical has been shown to cause cancer.

Cigarettes May Increase The Risk: This is because the presence of alcohol may impair the body’s ability to repair cellular damage caused by the cigarette’s toxic chemical burden; also, as the American Cancer Society (ACS) says “alcohol can act as a solvent, helping harmful chemicals in tobacco to get inside the cells that line the digestive tract.” Alcohol also disrupts the body’s detoxification process by limiting and slowing the body’s ability to flush harmful toxins out of your body, thus increasing the chance that they can cause cellular damage.

Decreased Nutrients: Alcohol decreases the levels of nutrients in your body for several reasons. Folate is one of these; one of its roles within your body is to help protect cells against turning cancerous. First, the alcohol can actually inhibit your body’s ability to assimilate or absorb certain essential nutrients from your diet or supplement intake; this is due in part to the damage that it exerts on your stomach and intestinal lining. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that “even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being fully utilized by altering their transport, storage, and excretion.”

Secondly, many times those that drink heavily may not be eating on a regular basis—or when they do eat they may not be eating a proper and nutritious diet, thus depriving themselves of the very things that can help protect them.

Nutrients including the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that typically derive themselves from our food are crucial in helping our body to combat damage, while also helping our body to regrow and heal after the substance’s assault.

Hormonal Imbalances: Studies show that alcohol can alter the levels of certain hormones within the body, including raising estrogen; this hormone is involved in processes surrounding breast growth and development, thus it is thought that it may encourage cancer growth within this area.

Weight Gain: Alcohol can be calorie laden in and of itself; for some, drinking encourages them to eat certain foods that may not be healthy due to their higher caloric values and fat content. For both these reasons, a person may gain weight; studies exhibit that several types of cancer have higher risk components for people that are overweight or obese.

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What Cancers Have An Increased Risk?

According to the most current research, there is firm evidence exhibiting a clear link of alcohol increasing the risk of seven cancers. The ACS emphasizes the severity of this correlation, stating that of “each of these cancers, the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.” The AJPH study concluded that breast cancer ranks as the leading cause of alcohol-related cancer deaths for women at 56-66 percent; and for men, upper airway and esophageal cancers at 53-71 percent.

Here, we break down these seven cancers and speak about the effect that alcohol has on these body organs or systems:

Mouth, Throat, Voice Box, And Esophageal Cancers: There is a wealth of research that supports this; the National Cancer Institute says that “people who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (approximately 3.5 or more drinks per day) have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than nondrinkers.” Studies find that smoking along with drinking magnifies this danger. For these reasons, a person that smokes and drinks needs to be especially conscientious about how these substances together present greater danger.

Liver Cancer: Your liver is your body’s primary organ for detoxification. There is an established link that alcohol use over extended periods of time increases the prevalence of this type of cancer. Within the presence of acetaldehyde, liver cells grow quicker; this increased rate of regeneration may increase the occurrence of changes to the cellular DNA that could heighten risk for cancer. Constant and large quantities of alcohol can cause damage to the liver, causing inflammation or in the worst case cirrhosis; research suggests these both raise the risk factor.

Colon And Rectal Cancer: Statistically this is greater in men than in women, however, there is causal evidence for both genders. A National Institutes of Health article cited that in comparison to people that completely abstained from drinking, a heavy drinker’s “risk of polyps was increased three times for drinkers who did not smoke and 12 times for both drinkers and smokers.”

Breast cancer: The ACS states that “even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women.” Medscape reported on the findings of a study focused specifically on breast cancer and alcohol consumption that involved women from 10 European counties for roughly 11 years. It found that “each 10-g/day increase in alcohol intake raised the hazard ratio by 4.2 percent.” Subsequently, decreasing the amount of alcohol a person consumes may be a way to directly lower this danger.

It is theorized that this connection is due in part to alcohol’s role in increasing estrogen within a woman’s body. Studies show that increased levels of estrogen, can at a certain point increase the chance of cancer. Lastly, this risk may rise for woman that are not consuming enough folate (paired with the possibility that the alcohol itself is depleting the folate). This may be supplemented by either vitamins or by diet.

Studies also suggest that alcohol use may increase the likelihood of certain other cancers, such as that of the pancreas; however, more research is needed to definitely illustrate this connection.

Lack Of Education

EducationThe studies indicate that there is an apparent lack of public education on this matter. Due to increased research into this area, experts stress that more needs to be done to inform the public of this great risk. In example, the AJPH study said “Our estimate of 19 500 alcohol-related cancer deaths is greater than the total number of deaths from some types of cancer that receive much more prominent attention, such as melanoma or ovarian cancer.” This alone makes plain the need for greater and more accessible education and intervention.

Also, people are confused by the varying degrees of opinions and research on the matter—some research purports the health benefits of drinking various types of alcohol, including wine. This is not to say that there is not a certain measure of truth to those studies, but more so that a person must be conscientious and informed so that they may personally weigh all the factors when deciding how to incorporate alcohol within their life.

Even though some studies suggest low amounts of alcohol intake may decrease risk for heart disease we urge you to remember that this is not a good reason to start drinking alcohol, especially since there are other ways to decrease this risk.

Timothy Naimi, a School of Medicine and School of Public Health associate professor and co-author of the AJPH study is referenced within an article published by Boston University as stating that the amount of deaths from alcohol “dwarf any small number of people who may derive benefit from low-dose alcohol.” The article also referenced his opinion on the subject, stating “that among all people who start drinking, 5 to 10 times as many die from it as are benefited by it.”

Get Answers And Help Today

Contact us today at AlcoholTreatment.netAny time a person chooses to drink, regardless of the amount, they need to fully realize the reality of the choice they are making. If you’re fearful that your alcohol intake may be endangering you—no matter the amount—please do not hesitate to get more information today so that you may make a decision that best protects your body and mind. The sooner you cut back or stop drinking, the lower your risk for developing serious health concerns. Remember: we’re here to help; we have trained professionals standing by to assist you in finding the answers, truth and help that you deserve. Contact us today at

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