Alcohol and Cancer Risk

By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: November 29, 2020 | 4 Sources

Is There a Connection Between Alcohol and Cancer?
How can I Reduce My Risk?

Cancer is unfortunately a disease that has touched many individuals’ lives. This could mean that they have been diagnosed or survived Cancer themselves, or have a loved one who has been diagnosed.  Research has shown that drinking alcohol can lead to adverse health effects, which includes cancer.

Cancer research has shown that drinking alcohol can lead to the development of some cancers, and raise the risk of developing others.

In this article, we will take a look at Alcohol and Cancer Risk, the cancers that are linked to drinking alcohol as well as the cancers that increase in their risk if a person drinks alcohol.

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What Cancers Are Tied to Drinking Alcohol?

Over the years, the amount of research done into the causes of various cancers and other contributing factors has increased. From this research we have learned more about the connection of alcohol and Cancer risk.

The National Cancer Institute is a reliable source of information regarding Cancer. Research has shown that alcohol beverages, such as beers, wines and liquors, are known to be a carcinogen. In other words, alcohol is known to be a substance that causes Cancer.

It is important to note that there is no known “threshold” or minimum amount of alcohol needed to be consumed to cause the various types Cancer associated with drinking. There are other factors that can contribute to the development of Cancers, which makes this a difficult variable to pin point. Other factors can include other life style choices, genetics and a history of Cancer.

So what Cancers are directly linked to Alcohol? The following list was developed by the National Cancer Institute, which you can read more about by following the link. 

  • Head and Neck Cancers:  Research has shown that even moderate drinkers are connected to a higher risk of developing various head and neck Cancers. Cancers included are Pharynx Cancers, Larynx Cancers and Cancers of the mouth. The risk of developing these Cancers increases if the person uses both alcohol and tobacco products.
  • Larynx Cancer affected approximately 42,457 individuals in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • Oral Cancers and Pharynx Cancer affected approximately 153,134 individuals in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control.
  •  Esophageal Cancer: This is an example of a Cancer where Research has been unable to pin point an amount of alcohol needed to cause Cancer. With that being said, moderate drinkers can develop this as well. Biological factors are also known to contribute to the development of Esophageal Cancer.
  • Esophageal Cancer affected approximately 30,157 individuals in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • Liver Cancer: The link between alcohol use and Liver Cancer is not surprising. The liver is one of our major organs that is impacted by alcohol abuse. Heavy alcohol use is believed to significantly increase a person’s risk of developing either form of Liver Cancer.


  • Liver Cancer affected 55,143 individuals in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • Breast Cancer: Research has consistently shown that individuals who drink alcohol are at a higher risk of developing Breast Cancer. It is important to note that Breast Cancer can effect both men and women. Even individuals who fall into a light drinker category have an increased risk, as do moderate and heavy drinkers.


  • Breast Cancer affected 1,046,142 women in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • Colorectal Cancer: We know that moderate and heavy alcohol users are at an increased risk for both Colon and Rectum Cancers compared to individuals who do not drink.
  • Colon and Rectum Cancers affected 469,783 individuals in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control. 

It is important to note that research is ongoing when it comes to factors contributing to the development of Cancers. As a result, this list may expand in the future as we learn more about it.


How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Our Risk of Developing Cancer?

As mentioned above, the risk associated with alcohol and Cancer is a growing field of research. At this time, there are several ways that alcohol is believed to increase the risk of Cancers.

It is important to note that these beliefs are still undergoing research for support, which means that the connection has not been concretely proven at this time.


Below is a list of beliefs that are current the suspect of research studies according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • One belief is that when our bodies break down alcoholic drinks, ethanol turns into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is believed to be a Cancer causing substance (a carcinogen), and it is known to damage our DNA. 
  • The process of oxidation is when a molecule that contains oxygen breaks down and causes a chemical reaction. This reaction can damage our DNA, proteins and fats throughout the body. 
  • Alcohol makes it difficult for our bodies to absorb and break down a variety of nutrients that are often associated with the risk of Cancer. Examples of this would be Vitamin A, Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin E.

 Alcohol is known to increase our bodies level of Estrogen which may be linked to the risk associated between alcohol consumption and Breast Cancer.

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Alcohol and Cancer Risk

How Can I Reduce my Risk?

The simple answer to this question would be to avoid alcohol, or drink what falls into the light drinker category. You will likely gain other health benefits from doing this.

What we know, is that when you initially stop drinking alcohol, there is no immediate decrease of the risk associated with Cancer development. After time, the risk will fall.

Research has shown that it may take year’s sobriety for the risk to be comparable to someone who does not drink alcohol.

One point worth discussing is the thought that drinking Red Wine can actually reduce our risk of developing Cancer. This thought comes from the presence of resveratrol, which is found in grapes. It is believed that this compound decreases the risk of cancer, however, this thought has not yet been supported by empirical evidence and research. As time goes on, this may change, and we may have a concrete answer to this question.

Another way to reduce your risk is to avoid the use of both Alcohol and Tobacco products. Tobacco products are known to come with their own health risks, so it is not surprising that when combined with alcohol, the risk for serious health concerns arises.

When we look at the risk for Cancers, the use of both alcohol and tobacco leads to an even greater risk of developing various Oral Cancers,

  • Pharynx Cancer, 
  • Larynx Cancer and 
  • Esophagus Cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with any of the Cancers that are known to be connected to the use of Alcohol, your doctor would be your best source of information regarding your use of alcohol. As noted above, the field of Cancer Research is ever growing and we are learning more about it continuously.

As such, new recommendations can be developed to help us decrease our risk associated with various Cancers.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

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