People often ask the question, “Can alcohol cause cancer?” The answer is yes but with a little caveat, because it depends.
It depends upon your genetic makeup and how much you drink. A small amount of alcohol isn’t really a big deal, but a moderate amount on a daily basis increases your risk. If you are someone who drinks alcohol on a daily basis, your risk increases even more.
Most Common Cancers Associated with Alcohol Use
When you drink alcohol, you expose your mouth, throat and esophagus to disease. If you combine smoking with alcohol use, that puts you at even greater risk.
As we get further down in the gastrointestinal system, the stomach and small intestines are not at risk for increased risk of cancers with alcohol use. But at the end of your colon and rectum, we start seeing an increase in distal colon cancers. We don’t know the exact mechanism for those increases in these locations, but that’s what we have seen.
The other two big ones are liver cancer, primarily in heavy drinkers, and breast cancer in women. Again, we don’t know the mechanism for developing cancer, but there is a direct correlation. Women with a high risk of breast cancer should limit alcohol consumption. If a woman’s breast cancer risk is low, drinking alcohol might not be a big deal. Again, it depends on your genetics and how much you drink.
Lower Your Risk with Moderate Alcohol Use
It’s difficult to say exactly how many cases of cancer result from alcohol use, because so often there are other factors involved. It’s hard to separate each factor and determine which one contributed the most.
If we look at the number of cancer deaths in this country, about 3.4 percent of those can be directly attributed to alcohol use. For the rest, alcohol may be a contributing factor. Smoking is usually the biggest risk factor for any kind of cancer.
A recent study indicated any amount of alcohol decreased overall life expectancy. There was some debate about it because it conflicted with previous studies that found small and moderate amounts of alcohol use might actually increase life expectancy.
So, the jury’s out on the total effect of alcohol on life expectancy. In general, we would say for most people mild to moderate use of alcohol is not a big risk factor for cancer.
If you want to pursue lifestyle modifications and how they relate to your health and cancer prevention, please give me a call at 317-434-1750 or schedule a consultation on the Schuster Family Medicine and Osteopathic Care website.