Drinking alcohol increases cancer risk

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which supports Dry January, has a major role in conducting research about cancer prevention and survival but we are also very pleased that our cancer prevention messages are having noticeable effects. For example, a YouGov survey we commissioned found that people are now becoming more aware about the increased cancer risks associated with drinking alcohol. Our analysis of worldwide research shows strong evidence that consuming alcoholic drinks increases the risk of six cancers including bowel, breast, mouth and throat, oesophageal and liver and stomach cancers.

Our analysis of worldwide research shows strong evidence that consuming alcoholic drinks increases the risk of six cancers including bowel, breast, mouth and throat, oesophageal and liver and stomach cancers.

Since 2010, the YouGov survey found, the number of people who say they know about the link has risen steadily from 53 per cent to 57 per cent in 2016 – every little bit helps when it comes to raising public awareness of cancer risk.

We still want to reach more people, however, with the recommendation that, when it comes to cancer, there is no safe minimum alcohol consumption. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female – alcohol affects your health just the same, even if your body composition may mean you get tipsy more quickly if you are a woman. The UK government reviewed the evidence in 2016 and published new guidelines limiting the maximum weekly intake to 14 units for both men and women for the first time.

Although the UK is not at the top of the league of countries in Europe for heavy drinking – that accolade goes to Belarus followed closely by Moldova and Lithuania — we cannot afford to be complacent.

Although the UK is not at the top of the league of countries in Europe for heavy drinking – that accolade goes to Belarus followed closely by Moldova and Lithuania — we cannot afford to be complacent.

It’s not just heavy drinkers who are at higher risk of getting cancer, although there is greater risk the more you drink. WCRF has found that even people who drink two to three drinks a day, which is considered socially acceptable, are significantly more likely to get bowel cancer compared to those who do not drink. Any alcohol consumption can significantly increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer.

Most people think that vodka is worse for you than wine or beer for example, but in fact all types of alcohol contain the compound ethanol, which breaks down into the toxic metabolite acetaldehyde which directly damages DNA at a cellular level. Vodka can contain more ethanol per volume, but people tend to drink far higher quantities of beer and wine. Red wine may contain antioxidants, which help to remove damaging free radicals from the blood, but it is actually much better to get your antioxidants from fresh fruit and vegetables and opt for soft drinks that are alcohol free.

 

Susannah Brown

Susannah Brown

Susannah Brown Senior Science Programme Manager (Research Evidence) World Cancer Research Fund International
Susannah Brown

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