Consultant Surgical Oncologist & HIPEC Specialist


You probably know that smoking and getting too much sun can give you cancer. But you may not realize the dangers of cancer from tipping back wine, beer, or cocktails. In fact, 8 out of 10 Indians are unaware of the link. Researchers have found that drinking causes chemical and other physical changes in our bodies that make cancers more likely. Drinking alcohol is a contributor to the overall cancer burden.  Alcohol is directly responsible for about 5% of new cancer cases and cancer-related deaths around the world. Recent studies have raised concerns about the risk of even light to moderate levels of alcohol consumption for cancer incidence.

Alcohol and Cancer – What Are the Risks?

Many of us like to drink alcohol. We celebrate with it, unwind with it, and enjoy it with meals. We may even sip some wine to help protect our heart. It’s possible that moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits. But in general, those benefits, unfortunately, don’t extend to cancer. Drinking, in fact, raises the risk of developing several types of cancer. Does that mean you should never drink? The answer to that question is different for everyone. But the following information may help you decide what is best for you

Alcohol and Cancer Types

Alcohol ups your chances of cancer in at least seven parts of your body. They include your: liver , colon, rectum, stomach, breast, prostate, and esophagus. The ASCO(American Society of Clinical Oncology)  researchers point to research showing that, compared to nondrinkers, the risk of cancer for heavy drinkers increases by the following amounts:

  • Mouth and throat cancer: 5.13 times
  • Esophageal squamous cell cancer: 4.95 times
  • Voice box cancer: 2.65 times
  • Liver cancer: 2.07 times
  • Breast (female) cancer: 1.61 times
  • Colon and rectum cancer: 1.44 times

This means that on average, heavy drinkers have more than a fivefold higher risk of developing mouth and throat cancer during their lifetime than do nondrinkers. These numbers are known as relative risks — comparing the risk for one group to that for another.

How does alcohol cause cancer?

Drinking creates an environment where the carcinogen called acetaldehyde (a chemical produced when the body breaks down alcohol) which finds opportunities to alter your cell’s DNA & damages the DNA which causes cancer

Other explanations include:

  • Alcohol directly damages cells it comes into contact with, for example in the mouth, throat and stomach, which makes it easier for other cancer-causing compounds, such as ones from tobacco or processed meats, to get into the cells and cause DNA damage
  • Drinking alcohol can lead to liver cirrhosis. This is when the liver is damaged over time and forms scarring. Having cirrhosis is known to increase the risk of liver cancer .
  • Drinking alcohol increases blood levels of the hormone estrogen, which is linked to the risk of developing some types of breast cancer.

If you drink high levels of alcohol you may not be getting enough nutrients in your diet, which has the knock-on effect of making you more susceptible to cancer

Does a small amount of alcohol increase the risk of cancer?

Yes, cancer risk starts to increase at small amounts, so the more you can cut down the more you can reduce your risk. It’s been said a glass of red wine may be good for your heart, but a new study says that any alcohol consumption can increase cancer risks. They found that light drinking during a 10-year period may increase overall cancer risk by 5%. But when we look at the whole population, people who drink alcohol are more likely to develop cancer than people who don’t. This doesn’t mean everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer.

Is binge drinking worse for me?

Not when it comes to cancer risk. There isn’t currently good evidence that one specific drinking pattern is worse than another. Research shows drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer whether you drink it all in one go or spread it throughout the week.

Is SMOKING WITH DRINKING makes risk more?

Smoking and drinking alcohol together makes the risk of cancer much higher than the risks would be if you did one or the other. For example, drinkers who also smoke have a 10 times greater risk of liver cancer than people who only drink.

Dr Vimalathithan , oncologist in Tamilnadu says ,

Not all heavy drinkers get cancer as multiple risk factors are involved in the development of cancers including genetics and family history of cancer, age, environmental factors, and behavioural variables, as well as social determinants of health

The relationship between alcohol and cancer is dose-dependent. This means the more you drink, the higher the risk.

If you currently drink a lot, reducing the amount you drink now will still decrease your risk of cancer, compared to if you keep drinking at high levels.

Cutting back has lots of benefits other than reducing your cancer risk- including reducing the risk of accidents, high blood pressure and liver disease.