Alcohol Abuse Increases Cancer Risk
A new study shows that some Americans erroneously believe that alcohol helps prevent cancer. The study also revealed many Americans are not aware of the harmful connection between alcohol and cancer. The truth is, alcohol consumption makes it more likely an individual will contract certain types of cancer.
Researchers Sought to Understand the Public’s Understanding of Alcohol and Cancer
Researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program set out to determine how aware (or unaware) Americans were of the links between alcohol and cancer. The researchers asked 3,800 adults the following question:
“In your opinion, how much does drinking the following types of alcohol affect the risk of getting cancer?”
In addition to listing several types of alcohol, the researchers also asked the participants how much they drank.
Here are the findings from the first part of the survey:
- 31% of study participants were aware of the cancer risk of liquor
- 20% of study participants were aware of the cancer risk of wine
- 25% of study participants were aware of the cancer risk of beer
- 1.7% of participants thought liquor reduced cancer risk
- 10% of participants thought wine reduced cancer risk
- 2.2% of participants thought beer reduced cancer risk
More than 50% of study participants reported not fully understanding the impact of alcoholic beverages on cancer risk. It’s worth mentioning that participant awareness about alcohol and cancer risk was not associated with participant drinking status. Nondrinkers, “moderate” drinkers, and heavy drinkers all had similar awareness rates. However, the researchers did find that older adults participating in the survey were less likely to be aware of alcohol’s association with cancer risk than younger adults.
Yes, Alcohol and Cancer are Linked
According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), alcohol contributes to more than 75,000 cancer cases and about 19,000 cancer deaths each year. Andrew Seidenberg, who led the study while serving as a cancer prevention fellow at the Cancer Institute, highlighted the obvious concern this data reveals. “Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer in the United States and previous research has shown that most Americans don’t know this.” The researchers encouraged several public health interventions to educate the public, including mass media campaigns, cancer warning labels on alcohol, and patient-doctor discussions about alcohol risks.
“Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer in the United States and previous research has shown that most Americans don’t know this.”
At the time of this writing, there are six known cancers that people are more at risk of contracting if they consume alcohol. These are:
- Oesophageal cancer (squamous cell carcinoma)
- Breast cancer (pre and post-menopause)
- Mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers
- Colorectal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Liver cancer
Finally, the National Cancer Institute released a clear announcement on not just the connection between alcohol and cancer but on the fact that cancer risk increases as alcohol consumption increases. Quoting their announcement, “The 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. Even those who have no more than one drink per day and people who binge drink (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol-related.” This announcement is critical because it helps Americans realize that the connection is not just between alcohol consumption and cancer risk. There is also a connection between the amount of alcohol consumption and the degree of cancer risk.
Alcohol and Cancer: Real Harm, Real Risk
Not only is there a link between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, but the risks increase the more someone drinks and the more often they drink. Encourage an alcohol-free life for yourself and your loved ones to prevent cancer. And if you know someone who consumes alcohol and cannot stop, get them professional help today.
- AACR. “Do Beliefs about Alcohol and Cancer Risk Vary by Alcoholic Beverage Type and Heart Disease Risk Beliefs?” American Association for Cancer Research, 2023. aacrjournals.org
- AACR. “Americans Largely Unaware of Link Between Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages and Risk of Cancer.” American Association for Cancer Research, 2023. aacr.org
- WCRFI. “Alcoholic drinks and cancer risk.” World Cancer Research Fund International, 2022. wcrf.org
- NCI. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute, 2022. cancer.gov