Can drinking alcohol cause cancer?
For over 50 years, science has proven alcohol poses a variety of risks to the human body. One of the strongest scientific consensuses among the medical community supports the argument that alcohol can cause cancer.
The statement does not necessarily mean that anyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer, however the accumulated risks of having cancer increase depending on how much alcohol is consumed.
Types of Cancer Caused by Alcohol
In total, there are over 200 different types of cancer, each having their own individual methods in treating. Of these 200+ variations, seven have been linked to alcohol. These different cancers caused by alcohol include:
- Mouth cancer – Alcohol dries the skin inside the mouth, making the mouth vulnerable to new infections. The alcohol reacts with bacteria in the mouth to form cancer-led chemicals.
- Pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer – More commonly seen among drinkers who also smoke.
- Oesophageal (food pipe) cancer – Commonly related to both alcohol and tobacco usage.
- Laryngeal (voice box) cancer – Similarly related to both alcohol and tobacco usage.
- Breast cancer – Largely accumulating in women but in rare cases can also be developed by men.
- Bowel cancer – Usually developed over a longer lifespan of consuming alcohol.
- Liver cancer – Associated with heavy drinking and commonly founded among those who has Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
Of the seven types of cancers listed above, liver cancer has been known to be the most frequent among alcohol-related cancers.
Alcohol Classified as a Carcinogen
In the Report of Carcinogens (Fourteenth Addition), the National Toxicology Program (Department of Health and Human Services) categorize alcohol as a carcinogen to humans – evidenced from its behavioural properties. The evidence reported that several components and contaminants identified in beer, wine, and spirits are known, or suspected human carcinogens, including acetaldehyde, nitrosamines, aflatoxins, ethyl carbamate urethane, asbestos, and arsenic compounds (IARC 1988).
“Consumption of alcoholic beverages is known to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans.”
The report documents various medical studies conducted including, IARC 1988, Longnecker 1994 and Foster et al. 2003.
The results from the report suggest the quantity of alcohol directly correlates with a higher risk of alcohol associated cancers. The results are inclusive of both those who consume alcohol in small and large quantities.
Alcohol-Related Cancer Death Statistics
Statistics for how many people die from alcohol-related cancers has only been reported from a study conducted over ten years ago in 2009. Reported by the Cancer.gov, evidence states that 3.5% of cancer deaths within the United States were reportedly alcohol-related; equating to roughly 19,500 deaths.
In 2009, the population of the USA was approximately 306.8 million, however over 10 years later, these figures have since increased to over 330 million. A yearly growth in population is subsequently likely to result in the death toll increasing.
Those who should not Consume Alcohol
It is important to remember that alcohol should not be consumed by certain individuals or in certain circumstances. These would include any of the following scenarios:
- Anyone under the legal drinking age
- Women who are pregnant
- Anyone recovering from addiction
- Prior to driving a vehicle
- Those undergoing cancer treatment i.e. chemotherapy
Other Health Risks Associated with Consuming Alcohol
Aside from alcohol increasing the chance of developing cancer, consuming alcohol regularly poses significant risks of other health effects including:
- High blood pressure
- Mental health problems
- Weakened immune system
Although alcohol has become an integral part of certain religious beliefs and/or social conventions, understanding the health risks associated with drinking alcohol can help us to make an informed decision when the situation arises.
Receiving Treatment for Alcohol
If you are alcohol dependent or have concerns regarding your consumption levels of alcohol, speak to a medical professional and begin your road to recovery starting today.
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