Cancer Risk and Alcohol

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

NOVEMBER 15, 2017

This has been a well-covered concern and topic, but a new report has been issued that underlines the association between alcohol and cancer risk. Note that this study does not reflect data about alcohol and the risk of cancer recurrence, but a commonsense view would be that initial risk and recurrence risk may be related.

The report was in The Journal of Clinical Oncology and hammers away at the topic. Here is a summary from The New Times:

Cancer Doctors Cite Risks of Drinking Alcohol

By RONI CARYN RABIN

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, which represents many of the nation’s top cancer doctors, is calling attention to the ties between alcohol and cancer. In a statement published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the group cites evidence that even light drinking can slightly raise a woman’s risk of breast cancer and increase a common type of esophageal cancer. Heavy drinkers face much higher risks of mouth and throat cancer, cancer of the voice box, liver cancer and, to a lesser extent, colorectal cancers, the group cautions.

“The message is not, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start,’” said Dr. Noelle LoConte, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the ASCO statement. “It’s different than tobacco where we say, ‘Never smoke. Don’t start.’ This is a little more subtle.”
Other medical groups have cited the risks of alcohol as a possible cause of cancer. But this is the first time that ASCO has taken a stand.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/well/live/cancer-doctors-cite-risks-of-drinking-alcohol.html

And, if you want to read more, this is a general information sheet from the NCI:

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

What is alcohol? Alcohol is the common term for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, a chemical substance found in beer, wine, and liquor, as well as in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils (scented liquids taken from plants). Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugars and starches by yeast. The main types of alcoholic drinks and their alcohol content are as follows:

  • Beers and hard ciders: 3-7 percent alcohol
  • Wines, including sake: 9-15 percent alcohol
  • Wines fortified with liquors, such as port: 16-20 percent alcohol
  • Liquor, or distilled spirits, such as gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey, which are produced by distilling the alcohol from fermented grains, fruits, or vegetables: usually
    35-40 percent alcohol (70-80 proof), but can be higher

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a standard alcoholic drink in the United States contains 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces or a "shot" of 80-proof liquor

Read more: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet