Raising a Glass Could be Increasing Your Cancer Risk

Healthy Living

Tammy George

Public service ads on TV tell us to decrease our drinking to reduce our chance of having a stroke, to cut the rates of domestic violence and drink driving but rarely do they ask us to consider the link between alcohol and cancer. However, the Cancer Council of Australia estimates that 5% of all cancers can be attributed to long-term alcohol use.

Types of Cancer Drinkers can Contract

Excessive drinking has been linked to the following cancers:

  • Liver
  • Breast
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Stomach
  • Oesophagus
  • Bowel

Researchers have found several links between alcohol consumption and cancer including:

  • breaking down ethanol to acetaldehyde in the body which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen
  • generating reactive oxygen species which can damage DNA, proteins and lipids (fats) through the oxidation process
  • impairing the body’s ability to absorb a variety of nutrients including vitamin A; nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate; vitamin C; vitamin D; vitamin E; and carotenoids that we need to stay free of cancer
  • increased levels of oestrogen, a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer
  • an inherited deficiency in an enzyme that metabolises alcohol that increases the risk of oesophageal cancer
  • people who smoke as well as drink alcohol are at a far greater risk of developing oral, throat and esophageal cancers.

What Level of Drinking Puts you at Risk of Cancer?

The safe limits of alcohol vary for everyone depending on your body size and shape however the following number of standard drinks per day puts you at risk of cancer.  

1-2 drinks a day increases the risk of breast cancer and women who regularly drink more than four drinks per day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than non-drinkers

3 or more drinks a day increases your risk of liver cancer

4 or more drinks a day can increase the risk for bowel cancer by 1.4 times compared with non-drinkers. This quantity of alcohol also makes you 2-3 times more likely to develop oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal and oesophageal cancers.

Cutting Back on Alcohol

By reducing your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than four standard drinks on any single occasion, you will be at less risk of developing cancer.

You can cut back by trying the following:

  • When you’re out socialising, make every second drink water or soda water
  • Switch to lower strength alcohol
  • Have a non-alcoholic wine or mocktail
  • Make two days alcohol-free each week
  • Challenge a friend to go one month without drinking any alcohol
  • When you dine out concentrate on enjoying your meal rather than the drinks
  • Change your routine, so you are doing something else when you’re usually having a drink

Reducing your risk of contracting cancer is yet another good reason for cutting back on your consumption of alcohol.

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Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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