Most people would agree that heavy alcohol consumption causes or contributes to a host of health problems, including cancer, but what about moderate-to-light alcohol use? Does even a small amount of alcohol put your health at risk?
The short answer is yes. Alcohol use has been linked to increased risk of several cancer types including cancers of the:
- throat (pharynx)
- voice box (larynx)
- breast (in women)
- colon and rectum
For each type of cancer, the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. For someone who is an occasional drinker, there probably won’t be much of an increased risk, depending on your genetic makeup and overall health, but moderate drinking, defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as one drink per day for a women and two drinks per day for a man, can produce adverse health risks.
The link between breast cancer and moderate alcohol use has been extensively researched and reported on. In 2009, a seven-year National Cancer Institute study of 1.2 million middle-aged women found that women who had as little as one drink per day increased their risk for not only breast, but liver, rectum, mouth, throat and esophageal cancer. This study was the first to link low-to-moderate levels of alcohol use with an increased cancer risk for other types of cancer.
“There were no minimum levels of alcohol consumption that could be considered to be without risk,” said Naomi Allen, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Oxford and one of the study’s researchers.
Alcohol use clearly raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, voicebox and esophagus. If you are a “smoke while I drink” kind of gal, your risk factor increases dramatically. When alcohol is combined with tobacco use, the risk for these cancers is substantially higher than using either alcohol or tobacco alone. Researchers believe this may be because the alcohol (Ethanol) in all alcoholic beverages can act as a solvent that helps the harmful chemicals in tobacco to leach into the cells lining the digestive tract.