“There is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol drinking can cause 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 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. Even light drinkers (those who have no more than one drink per day) and binge drinkers have a modestly increased risk of some cancers (3–7). Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5% of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related (8).
Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer:
- Head and neck cancer: Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with higher risks of certain head and neck cancers. Moderate drinkers have 1.8-fold higher risks of oral cavity (excluding the lips) and pharynx (throat) cancers and 1.4-fold higher risks of larynx (voice box) cancers than non-drinkers, and heavy drinkers have 5-fold higher risks of oral cavity and pharynx cancers and 2.6-fold higher risks of larynx cancers (4, 9). Moreover, the risks of these cancers are substantially higher among persons who consume this amount of alcohol and also use tobacco (10).
- Esophageal cancer: Alcohol consumption at any level is associated with an increased risk of a type of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. The risks, compared with no alcohol consumption, range from 1.3-fold higher for light drinking to nearly 5-fold higher for heavy drinking (4, 9). In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma if they consume alcohol (11).
- Liver cancer: Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 2-fold increased risks of two types of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma) (4, 9, 12, 13).
- Breast cancer: Epidemiologic studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake. Pooled data from 118 individual studies indicates that light drinkers have a slightly increased (1.04-fold higher) risk of breast cancer, compared with nondrinkers. The risk increase is greater in moderate drinkers (1.23-fold higher) and heavy drinkers (1.6-fold higher) (4, 9). An analysis of prospective data for 88,000 women participating in two US cohort studies concluded that for women who have never smoked, light to moderate drinking was associated with a 1.13-fold increased risk of alcohol-related cancers (mostly breast cancer) (5).
- Colorectal cancer: Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with 1.2- to 1.5-fold increased risks of cancers of the colon and rectum compared with no alcohol consumption (4, 9, 14).”