In addition to tobacco, alcohol is one of the few substances consistently linked to cancer.
Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx (voice box), liver, and esophagus. It may also increase the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. When taken together, alcohol and tobacco greatly raise the risk of esophageal cancer.
Exactly why alcohol raises cancer risk is still being studied. Alcohol likely contributes to cancer when people are exposed to ethanol (the primary component of alcoholic beverages) and another chemical, acetaldehyde, which is produced when alcohol is metabolized (broken down or digested by the body). Alcohol may also affect the breakdown of hormones, such as estrogen, a factor in breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. In some studies of breast cancer, eating more folate (one of the B vitamins) offset the effect of drinking alcohol.
Here are some general recommendations for alcohol consumption. Talk with your doctor for more information.
- Limit the amount of alcoholic beverages you drink to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
- One drink is 12 ounces (oz) of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits (liquor).
Alcohol and survivorship
In studies of alcohol and breast cancer survivors, alcohol has not been shown to increase the risk of recurrence (return of the cancer) or lower the survival of women with breast cancer. Information about the effect of recurrence or survival following the diagnosis of other cancers is limited. All cancer survivors are encouraged to talk with their doctors about drinking alcohol and the effects of alcohol on their long-term health.