Alcohol and cancer risk: 5 types of cancer linked to alcohol consumption
A new report suggests that more than two drinks a week put you at risk for multiple types of cancer.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
On Tuesday, Canada's new Guidance on Alcohol and Health was released. The final report, released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), is an update to the 2011 Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.
The new guidance says that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume — and that consuming more than two drinks a week puts Canadians at risk.
According to the guidelines, 3-6 drinks a week increases the risk of developing certain cancers, including colorectal and breast cancer, and more than 7 drinks a week also ups your risk of heart attack and stroke.
It's a significant change from the previous guidelines, which recommended fewer than 15 drinks per week for men and fewer than 10 drinks per week for women — and the CCSA says the new advice reflects numerous studies over then past 10 years that link alcohol consumption to cancer.
Studies have concluded that the development of cancer is linked to a variety of risk factors such as genetics, diet and exercise, but lifestyle factors also play a role in the development of certain cancers.
Specifically, drinking alcohol has been linked to multiple types of cancer including breast, colon, esophageal, liver and mouth.
How certain foods and beverages are linked to cancer
Substances known as carcinogens have been scientifically proven to cause or contribute to the development of cancer.
Carcinogens can be found in our environment, in chemicals and substances we come in contact with, and are found in the food and drinks we consume.
Certain foods like red meat and processed meats are considered carcinogenic. Additionally, sugary drinks have been indirectly linked to cancer because they contribute to weight gain, which is a risk factor for the condition.
Alcohol is considered a group one carcinogen and a significant contributor to the development of cancer.
Canadian guidelines for drinking
While previous advice set out by Canada's low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines indicated that women should have no more than 10 drinks a week and men should stick to no more than 15 drinks a week, the new guidelines indicate that more than two drinks a week can put you at a higher risk of developing cancer.
Five types of cancer linked to alcohol consumption
Below are five common cancers that have been scientifically linked to drinking alcohol.
1. Breast cancer
The link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer has not been unanimously defined.
However, the leading theory is that alcohol consumption contributes to estrogen circulation in women who have not yet undergone menopause, which is necessary for breast cancer to develop.
According to Cancer Care Ontario, females who have at least two drinks of alcohol per day increase their risk of developing breast cancer by up to 31 per cent compared to individuals who don't drink.
This risk is lowered to a 10 per cent increase in women who only drink one alcoholic beverage daily.
2. Colon cancer
Alcohol contributes to the development colon cancer through the creation of polyps. This happens when your body processes alcohol, which can damage colon cell DNA.
In 2020, a study by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that alcohol consumption was linked to 20 per cent of new colon cancer cases in Canada.
3. Esophageal cancer
Drinking alcohol can dramatically increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
A study from McGill University found that heavy drinkers increased their risk of esophageal cancer by seven times compared to non-drinkers.
The risk of developing esophageal cancer increases when combined with smoking tobacco.
4. Liver cancer
People are encouraged to avoid alcohol for their liver health, but are often unaware that drinking can contribute to alcohol-induced liver cancer and disease.
However, the link between alcohol and liver cancer has been defined as "probable" by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund because liver cirrhosis typically encourages people to stop drinking.
5. Mouth and throat cancers
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing mouth and throat cancers.
Aside from altering your DNA and affecting your hormonal balance, alcohol can alter your cellular makeup in this area of the body.
As a result, the cells of your mouth and throat may be more permeable to potential carcinogens.
How to lower your risk for cancer linked to alcohol use
While alcohol is directly linked to the development of certain cancers, it's not a guarantee that you will develop the condition.
However, the best way of lowering your risk of cancer linked to alcohol consumption is to abide by Canada's drinking guidelines.
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