Dose Drinking Alcohol Cause Cancer?
“WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health”, we all have seen this label on all alcoholic beverages. Yes, alcohol is dangerous to health but do you know that it is deadly too? It is the most important preventable risk factor for one of the deadliest and incurable diseases i.e. CANCER. It accounts for about 6% of all cancers that are diagnosed in the entire world. Yet most of us are still in doubt about the link between alcohol use & cancer.
Types of Alcohol-Related Cancers
There is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol is a human carcinogen and its consumption causes several types of cancer. Though the more alcohol a person drinks the higher the risk of developing cancer, those who have more than one drink per day too have a moderately high risk of cancer. No matter which type of alcohol you drink- wine, beer, or spirits- the risk of cancer increases with every alcoholic drink. According to various studies and research alcohol is concerned with the development of the following types of cancer:
- Cancers of Mouth, throat, voice box, and oesophagus: Alcohol is the major risk factor for these types of cancers. If combined with smoking it can increase the risk of these cancers manyfold, as alcohol helps in the absorption of harmful chemicals in tobacco into the lining of the mouth, throat, and oesophagus.
- Liver cancer: It is a widely known fact that regular alcohol usage or consumption damages the liver; it also amplifies the risk of developing liver cancer. Alcohol causes inflammation and scarring of the liver tissues and this is the reason why it acts as a carcinogen.
- Colon or rectal cancer: Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption augments twofold the possibility of developing colon or rectal cancer as compared with no or zero alcohol consumption.
- Breast cancer: According to several epidemiologists, alcohol consumption raises estrogen levels in women thus, drinking even minor amounts intensifies and elevates the chances of developing breast cancer.
How Dose Alcohol Raise Cancer Risks?
As it is clear that alcohol consumption causes cancer, the question arises how? According to various researchers, there are multiple ways in which alcohol elevates and triggers the possibility of instigating cancer. These include:
- Damage to body tissues: Alcohol acts as an irritant and damages mouth & throat cells. Once in the body, alcohol gets converted into acetaldehyde which can damage DNA inside cells. As DNA is responsible for the repairing of cells, this DNA damage hinders this process and may lead cancerous cells to grow.
- Generates oxidative stress: Alcohol generates reactive oxidation which could damage DNA, lipids, and proteins in the body.
- Aiding other harmful chemicals: Alcohol often helps other harmful chemicals such as those in tobacco to enter the cell lining, the mouth, throat, and upper digestive tract more easily. Thus, augmenting cancer risks.
- Effects on the absorption of folate or other nutrients: Alcohol consumption impairs the body’s ability to break down and absorb a number of nutrients such as folate, vitamins A, C, D and E, and carotenoids. These nutrients help protect the body against cancer thus, low levels may play a role in amplifying the possibility of some cancers such as breast, colon and rectal cancer.
- Estrogens or hormonal imbalance: regular consumption can lead to hormonal imbalance in the body. It can raise the level of estrogens which is important in the development and growth of breast tissue. This increased level of hormone can lead to the growth of more cells, thus increasing the risk of breast cancer in women.
- Increasing body weight: As being overweight or obese is another risk factor of cancer, too much alcohol can lead to weight gain in some people as it adds calories to the diet.
Alcohol & Cancer Treatments
People undergoing cancer treatment should consult with their doctor whether it is safe to drink alcohol during or immediately after the treatment. However, it is not clear whether alcohol use raises the risk of recurrence of cancer or not. Still, there are some cases of cancer treatment in which alcohol consumption should be avoided. These include:
- Some cancer treatments cause mouth sores. In this case, the consumption of alcohol can make them worse.
- Alcohol can also interact with some drugs used during cancer treatment which might lead to harmful side effects.
Recommendations to Curtal the Risks
Research has shown that even when you stop drinking it may take many years to fully eliminate the alcohol-related cancer risk. Giving up alcohol completely is the only remedy to prevent alcohol-related cancer risks but people who can’t, can lower the risks by limiting their alcohol consumption. Some recommendations on alcohol use are as follows:
- Limiting the number of alcoholic beverages. It is recommended that men should limit their intake to two drinks per day and one drink a day for women.
- Set some dry days each week.
- Choose non-alcoholic drinks such as fruit juice with soda or any of the mocktails.
- Switch to lower alcohol varieties or dilute alcoholic drinks with soda or mineral water.
- Rather than going to a club or pub to meet friends, go with them to play games or sports.
- Try to drink water to quench your urge for alcohol.
- Do not binge drink or drink heavily as it may increase the risk of certain cancers.
- There is no evidence that red wine helps in the prevention of cancer therefore, limiting the intake of red wine too, is important.
- Avoid using both alcohol and tobacco products together.
- Eat enough folate as it may help in protecting against alcohol-related cancer risks.
- Stop the intake of alcohol immediately in case you are undergoing any therapy such as menopausal hormone therapy, chemotherapy, etc.
In addition to the above recommendations, the government by imposing tighter restrictions on the sale of alcohol and by limiting the advertising of alcohol can help in lowering alcohol consumption, thus, decreasing alcohol-related cancer risks.