4 Ways Drinking Alcohol Puts You at Risk for Cancer


I think the image above perfectly captures how many of us feel when presented with news we don’t want to hear. Sure, for the most part we are balanced, productive, and responsible adults but we want to have fun too. For many of us this means a glass of wine or a cocktail to relax after work. Unfortunately this simple act has greater implications for some of us.

So, I was doing a bit of online cancer research as I often do right after my chemo therapy infusions (every three weeks).  I decided to check out the government’s research website:  http://www.cancer.gov.  I was surprised to come across this information linking cancer and alcohol consumption.

I don’t drink often because I fall into that group of people who do not produce a sufficient amount of a particular enzyme to metabolize alcohol, so it’s not always pleasant for me. I told my endocrinologist about the weird symptoms I sometimes feel after drinking alcohol and she nonchalantly said, “Oh, that’s how the body responds when it encounters poison”. Excuse me?! We should have had that conversation a long time ago.  Hell, I should be seeing a public service announcement on every TV station!

Here’s some key excerpts from the info page:

Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer (1, 2). In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related (3).

How does alcohol increase the risk of cancer?

Researchers have identified multiple ways that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, including:

  • metabolizing (breaking down) ethanol in alcoholic drinks to acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen; acetaldehyde can damage both DNA (the genetic material that makes up genes) and proteins. [My body does not metabolize alcohol well. I cringe thinking of the possible damage I have done in the past by ignoring this limitation.]
  • generating reactive oxygen species (chemically reactive molecules that contain oxygen), which can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats) through a process called oxidation. [Goodness knows I don’t need anything compromising my DNA. Various types of cancer are prevalent on my father’s side of the family.]
  • impairing the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk, including vitamin A; nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate; vitamin C; vitamin D;vitamin E; and carotenoids [These vitamins are all part of my daily supplement program.]
  • increasing blood levels of estrogen, a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer. [My particular type of breast cancer is extremely estrogen sensitive, so alcohol is not my friend.]


Alcoholic beverages may also contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production, such as nitrosamines, asbestos fibers, phenols, and hydrocarbons. [I’ve always thought so. There was a recent article regarding wines which contain illegal levels of arsenic and other toxic chemicals. In the past, some brands of wine simply made me ill, while I was fine drinking others.]

I hope you found this information useful. I know I have.


Categories: Health, Interests

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