A 2019 study in Japan confirms the link between minimal to moderate alcohol consumption and higher cancer risks. Even light drinkers are putting themselves at greater risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. The lowest overall cancer risk is associated with absolutely no alcohol consumption – findings that are optimistic for anyone who completes a recovery program and commits to a life of sobriety.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Japan and ranks #2 in the United States, causing over 20% of American deaths every year. Studies related to alcohol consumption and cancer risk are vital for both countries to educate their citizens and decrease cancer fatalities.
The Link Between Alcohol Consumption and Cancer
To confirm the link between alcohol consumption and cancer, researchers examined information from 33 general hospitals for the years 2005 through 2016. This data consisted of over 63,000 patients with cancer, all reporting their average number of drinks per day. Overall, cancer risk was lowest for patients who consumed no alcohol at all. Patients who reported one drink per day for ten years, or two drinks per day for five years, increased their risk of cancer development by five percent. Patients who drank less than two drinks per day had an elevated risk of developing cancer unrelated to how long they had been consuming the alcohol.
Here in the United States, clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and increased risks of the following types of cancer:
- Head and neck cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
Evidence is also growing that alcohol is associated with increased risks of melanoma, prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
Is Abstaining Enough?
According to the National Cancer Institute, most studies that examine the association between cancer risk and alcohol consumption find that eliminating alcohol from the diet does not immediately reduce risk. Cancer risk does eventually decline. However, it may take years for levels to drop relative to those who never drank alcohol at all.
These studies also found that previous drinkers still demonstrated a higher risk of developing oral and/or esophageal cancers for up to 16 years after abstaining from alcohol, when compared to those who never drank. However, these risk levels were lower than those recorded before alcohol elimination. One study indicated that it could take over 35 years for the higher risks of these cancers to decrease to the levels of those who never drank, to begin with.
Research like this proves that you will be better off if you stop drinking – but far better off if you never start.
How Alcohol Increases the Risk of Cancer
There are multiple ways that alcohol may increase your risk of cancer, including:
- Metabolizing (or breaking down) ethanol in alcoholic drinks to acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical and probable human carcinogen that can damage both DNA and proteins in the body
- Impairing the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients associated with lower cancer risk, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and folate
- Increasing blood levels of estrogen, a hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer
Alcoholic beverages may also contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production, such as asbestos fibers and hydrocarbons. The National Toxicology Programs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.
When people use alcohol and tobacco together, the risks are even greater. Research shows that people who use both alcohol and tobacco have much higher risks of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx (throat), larynx, and esophagus than those who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.
But Doesn’t Red Wine Prevent Cancer?
A plant compound called resveratrol, which is found in grapes used to make red wine and in other plants, has been investigated for many possible health effects – including cancer risk. A new study finds that red wine has “both cancerous and non-cancerous properties.” Specifically, the study finds that resveratrol may protect against cancer, despite the alcohol content of red wine being a risk factor for head and neck cancer.
The more someone drinks, the more DNA damage they accumulate, increasing their cancer risk. However, the resveratrol in red wine eliminates the cells with the most DNA damage, which are the ones with the highest likelihood of becoming cancerous.
Researchers stress that resveratrol should not be considered a “magic bullet” that cancels out the risk of cancer provided by alcohol, and that abstinence is still the safest route.
Is Alcohol Affecting Someone You Love?
Increased cancer risk is just one of a plethora of reasons for people who struggle with alcohol addiction to stop drinking. Alcohol addiction doesn’t just compromise your health, but your relationships, your career, your safety, and your life. Let us help you find your way to sobriety.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. Through accountability and commitment to the 12 Steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers and believe with the right support, you can experience real and permanent healing. For more information, call us now at 866-287-2877.