Know the Facts

Helping you make informed decisions about your drinking

Alcohol and Cancer

A lot of research has been done looking at links between alcohol use and cancer, and the evidence can’t be denied. Drinking alcohol is associated with greater risk for developing cancer. In 1988 alcohol was listed by the World Health Organisation as a ‘Group 1' carcinogen. This is the highest level of classification and means that alcohol is a strong cause of cancer. Of all alcohol-related deaths, about one in five (20%) are due to cancer.

In Australia, about 5,070 cases of cancer per year are caused by chronic long-term alcohol use. The risk of cancer is the same for all alcoholic beverages (including beer, wine, and spirits) and is dose-related. This means that the more you drink, the greater your risk of developing cancer. Research has found that regular, long-term alcohol use increases the risk of mouth, throat, oesophageal, bowel, breast, and liver cancer. The table below outlines how much your cancer risk increases when consuming 5 or more standard drinks each day, compared to not drinking.

Type of Cancer Increase in risk*
Mouth, Throat & Oesophageal Cancer 3 – 4 times
Bowel Cancer 1.4 times
Breast Cancer 1.5 times
Liver Cancer 1.4 times

* when 5 or more standard drinks are consumed per day

Reducing cancer risk

Although there has been some talk that regular, small amounts of alcohol (e.g. a glass of red wine) might have a protective health effect, this has not been widely demonstrated or confirmed. Also, there is no evidence to suggest that alcohol helps to protect you from any type of cancer. The only way to avoid any risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer is to abstain from drinking alcohol. If you do plan to drink, you can reduce your overall risk of developing an alcohol-related disease by sticking to a limit of no more than two standard drinks on any day.

Sources

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  • National Health and Medical Research Council (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia: Australian Capital Territory.
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