Drinking Alcohol and Cancer: Should Your Cocktail Carry a Cancer Warning?


Scientists have known that alcohol has been promoting cancer for several decades. The World Health Organization first classified alcohol use as a cancer cause in 1987. Experts say that all types of alcoholic beverages can increase the risk of cancer because they all contain ethanol, which can cause DNA damage, stress oxidative and cell proliferation. The body metabolizes ethanol to another carcinogen, acetaldehyde, and it can influence breast cancer risk by raising estrogen levels.

But surveys continue to show that most people are unaware of the risks. When the American Institute for Cancer Research surveyed Americans two years ago to assess their knowledge of different cancer risk factors, the results were surprising: Less than half were aware of the relationship between alcohol and cancer.

Experts say one reason for the lack of awareness is the popular idea that moderate alcohol intake, especially red wine, is good for heart health, which has drowned out public health messages about the impact. of alcohol in cancer risk. But while moderate alcohol consumption has long had a health halo, recent studies suggest it may not be beneficial at all. The American Heart Association states that “no research has established a cause-and-effect link between alcohol consumption and better heart health,” and that people who drink red wine may have lower rates of heart disease for other reasons, such as healthier lifestyles, better diets, or a higher socioeconomic status.

Other analyzes have found that moderate alcohol consumption may appear beneficial in large population studies because the “nondrinkers” used for comparison often include people who do not drink because of serious health problems or because they have drunk heavily. When studies take these factors into account, the apparent cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption disappear.

For that reason, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which once promoted moderate alcohol consumption for heart health, no longer make that claim. A panel of scientists who helped shape the most recent edition of the guidelines called on the government to lower the recommended daily limit for alcohol consumption to just one drink a day for both men and women, citing evidence that levels higher High alcohol intake increases the risk. of premature death.

But the alcohol industry lobbied fiercely against that change, and the latest guidelines, released in December, did not include the reduced recommendation for drinks. However, the guidelines for the first time included strong language about alcohol and cancer, warning that even drinking in moderation can “increase the overall risk of death from various causes, including various types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease.”

“For some types of cancer,” state the new guidelines, “the risk increases even with low levels of alcohol consumption (less than one drink a day). Therefore, caution is advised. “

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