Studies have shown that alcoholic beverages act as carcinogens, substances that naturally make body tissue more susceptible to cancer when consumed by humans. This research also notes that cancer risks are even greater when humans combine alcohol abuse with smoking cigarettes. The type of alcohol consumed had no effect on the outcome of the study, indicating that beer, wine and spirits are equally dangerous.
Several components found in alcohol are either known or suspected carcinogens, including nitrosamines, acetaldehyde, ethyl carbamate and aflatoxins. Likewise, carcinogenic arsenic compounds and asbestos are often found in alcohol. Many of these chemicals are safe on their own but become major health risks as they are metabolized with alcohol in the body.
Types of Cancers With Increased Risk
Not all cancers can be blamed on alcohol consumption, but studies show that those who do limit their alcohol consumption are able to minimize their risks for developing a number of cancers. In countries where alcohol consumption rates are higher than average, for example, cancer rates are similarly accelerated. A better understanding of the cancer risks associated with alcoholism highlights how much damage that alcohol abuse can do to numerous systems in the body.
Colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer, is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men and third-leading cause in women. In addition to moderate-to-heavy alcohol consumption, other risk factors including obesity, low calcium intake, poor nutrition, long-term smoking and physical inactivity all increase an individual’s risk for colorectal cancer. In fact, studies show that roughly 3.5 drinks (50 grams) per day equates to 1.5 times the risk. Each additional 10 grams of alcohol increases risk about 7 percent.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. More than 100 studies regarding alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk have been performed. The conclusion reached from 53 studies is that each 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day increases a women’s risk of contracting breast cancer by roughly 7 percent. Additionally, 3 drinks (45 grams) equates to 1.5 times the risk.
Over the 40 years, the number of liver cancer cases has increased at an alarming rate. Since 1980, the numbers have tripled. From 2004 to 2013, an increase of 4 percent each year was reported. The estimate for 2017 is that liver cancer will claim the lives of 28,920 people. In addition to increased risk from heavy alcohol consumption, other factors include hepatitis B and C, obesity, diabetes, and smoking. However, alcohol abuse is the primary cause of liver cancer.
Oral Cavity and Pharynx Cancer
The rate for oral cavity and pharynx (throat) cancer is low. The disease was responsible for less than 10,000 deaths in 2017. This cancer impacts individuals differently based on a person’s ethnic background. For example, the cancer carries a 66 percent survival rate among whites and a 46 percent survival rate for African-Americans. Three-and-a-half drinks per day, greatly increases one’s risk for oral cavity or pharynx cancer, especially if mixed with smoking.
How to Reduce Cancer Risk
Each drink a person consumes contributes to his or her cancer risk, so the best way to minimize one’s chances of getting cancer is to abstain from alcohol. For seasoned alcohol drinkers, it is important to allow the body time to recover and reduce cancer risks. Those who fear that they may have an alcohol abuse problem should seek professional addiction treatment if they find it difficult to stop drinking without support.