Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk

Beverages 102 Exhaustive Review of the Literature Reveals Even Moderate Alcohol Intake Increases Risk of Cancer

The Cancer Institute of New South Wales, Australia, has released a comprehensive analysis of current evidence for the association between alcohol consumption and risk of cancer. Limited to systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the highest methodological quality, the 194-page monograph, entitled Alcohol as a Cause of Cancer, revealed that even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with an often dramatic increase in the risk of several types of cancer.

Key findings are as follows:

Alcohol intake of approximately 2 drinks per day increases the risk of

  • cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx by 75 percent,
  • the risk of esophageal cancer by 50 percent, and
  • the risk of laryngeal cancer by 40 percent.

Moderate intake also significantly increases the risk of colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and stomach cancer.

  • Intake of approximately 4 drinks per day increases the risk of any cancer by 22 percent, while
  • 8 drinks per day increases the risk by 90 percent.

The risk of breast cancer is 11 to 22 percent higher in women who drink alcohol than in women who do not.

Comments: The authors were unable to identify levels of consumption associated with no risk of cancer. Although the World Health Organization lists alcohol as a Group-1 carcinogen, as noted in the introduction to this study, few people are aware that even moderate consumption can cause cancer. These findings may be limited by possible underreporting of alcohol use or misclassification of exposure (e.g., light or ex-drinkers classified as non-drinkers).

Nonetheless, information about the association between alcohol and cancer needs to be more widely available so that the public can make informed choices about their behavior.

Richard Saitz, MD, MPH. Research Reference; Lewis S, Campbell S, Proudfoot E, et al. Alcohol as a Cause of Cancer. Sydney, Cancer Institute NSW, May 2008.

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