Even moderate alcohol consumption puts you at heightened risk of cancer, according to a new study.
Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer.
In the Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogenic. The research evidence indicates 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.
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for certain head and neck cancers, particularly cancers of the oral cavity (excluding the lips), pharynx (throat), and larynx (voice box). 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.
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a particular type of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Alcohol consumption is an independent risk factor for, and a primary cause of, liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
The risk of breast cancer was higher across all levels of alcohol intake: for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (slightly less than one drink), researchers observed a small (7 percent) increase in the risk of breast cancer.
The estimates come from an analysis of data from the huge ongoing European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer (EPIC) and from representative data on alcohol consumption compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This research supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts,” coauthor Naomi Allen, DPhil, an epidemiologist at Oxford University, United Kingdom, said in a statement.
The original data in the EPIC study were collected from 1992 to 2000, so “the results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about 10 years ago,” Dr. Allen noted.
“People are drinking even more now than they were then, and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future,” she added.
The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend a maximum of 2 drinks per day (about 28 g of alcohol) for men and 1 drink (about 12 g) for women.
The team calculated that drinking more than this was responsible for 57% to 87% of the cancers attributable to alcohol (i.e., upper aerodigestive tract, liver, colorectal, and female breast cancer) in men and from 40% to 98% in women.
“The cancer risk increases with every drink, so even moderate amounts of alcohol, such as a small drink each day, increases the risk of these cancers,” according to a press release from Cancer Research UK, which cosponsors the ongoing EPIC study, along with several European agencies.
From a standpoint of cancer risk, there is no level of alcohol that can be considered safe.