Is Drinking Related to Cancer?

Cancer linked to alcohol consumption

February 18, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Studies in the past have shown links between heavy drinking and cancer. Previous research has found drinking red wine fights cancer. But what about just drinking in general?

A recent, limited, research study estimated the role of drinking in the incidence of cancer in the United States to just 3 to 4 percent of cancers in the US. Breast, head, neck, throat, prostate and liver cancers had the highest rates of alcohol-related cancers.

These researchers recommended that doctors talk to patients about the future cancer risks, and potential benefits, associated with drinking alcohol.

"Talk to your doctor about alcohol risks."

Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, from the Department of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, worked with a team of colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, the Public Health Institute and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health to investigate the level of impact alcohol has had on cancer in the US.

Based on multiple alcohol consumption studies and surveys done between 2000 and 2010, researchers calculated increased risk of cancer-related death from alcohol consumption. The researchers estimated that roughly 19,500 cancers, or 3 to 4 percent of cancer tumors and diagnoses, in the US from 2009 to 2010 were due to alcohol consumption.

Researchers estimated that out of all cancers related to alcohol consumption, for women, 56 percent were breast cancer and, for men, 53 percent were head, neck and throat cancers. 

Of the 4 percent of cancers related to alcohol, researchers estimated that 26 percent were based on daily alcohol consumption of only one and a half drinks per day.

The researchers did not study the role of binge drinking in cancer-related deaths. Alcohol consumption was based on average drinks consumed per week or month. The researchers did not consider that some people may have consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting.

The authors came to three main conclusions:

  • Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing cancer
  • Risk of cancer can increase as the levels of alcohol consumption increase
  • Reduced alcohol consumption may lower the risk of cancer from alcohol

“The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians. Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight,” said Dr. Naimi.

This study was published in February in the American Journal of Public Health.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
February 12, 2013
Last Updated:
February 18, 2013