Alcohol and Cancer
Increasing cancer risk by drinking alcohol
Everybody has the potential to develop Cancer, as there are a range of causes and risks; however some people are more prone to cancer because of their genes, lifestyle or environment.
Things that contribute to the development of Cancer include obesity and alcohol use. In Australia, approximately 5000 cases of cancer (5% of all cancers diagnosed) are attributable to the long-term use of alcohol.
There is convincing evidence that alcohol use increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel (in men) and breasts (in women), and probable evidence that it increases the risk of bowel cancer (in women) and liver cancer. The more alcohol you drink the more your risk of developing these cancers is increased. Cancer is the most common cause of death for females aged 25 to 44, and in men and women aged 45 and over.
Alcohol and Breast Cancer
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing Breast Cancer in women of all ages. Importantly, it further increases the risk of developing breast cancer in women with other risk factors for the disease such as lifestyle, family history, medical history, reproductive history, hormone replacement therapy, obesity and exposure to cancer-causing compounds or carcinogens.
For women aged 15 – 60 years, the relative risks for developing Cancer by the level of drinking is:
- For those not drinking alcohol at all, the risk of developing Breast Cancer is 6.45 people in every 1000
- For those drinking one (1) standard drink per day, the relative risk multiplies by 1.08 to 6.96 in every 1000 will develop Breast Cancer
- For those drinking two (2) standard drinks per day, the relative risk multiplies by 1.17 to 7.54 people in every 1000 will develop Breast Cancer and so on
Alcohol and Liver Cancer
Drinking alcohol heavily or excessively can cause your liver to become inflamed, causing alcoholic hepatitis which is a disease that can result in liver failure and death. Though this is reversible for people who stop drinking when diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, continued drinking can permanently scar and damage the liver resulting in liver cirrhosis, a treatable disease but irreversible and one which increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. To reduce the risk of liver damage and developing liver cancer only drink one (1) or two (2) standard alcoholic drinks per day as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Alcohol and smoking
When you drink heavy amounts of alcohol and smoke cigarettes you significantly increase your risk of developing these cancers, especially cancers of the mouth and throat.
Cancer and Genetics
Not all heavy drinkers get Cancer. Some light-to-moderate drinkers also develop the disease. This suggests that your genetic makeup may affect your risk of developing cancer. For example, the enzymes in your liver, which metabolise alcohol and its breakdown product, acetaldehyde, may function differently in different people, so that in some there will be higher levels of acetaldehyde accumulating, thereby potentially increasing the risk of Cancer.
Reduce your risks