Know the FactsHelping 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.
- Blot, W.J. (1992). Alcohol and cancer. Cancer Research, 52, 2119-2123.
- Blot, W.J. (1999). Invited commentary: More evidence of increased risks of cancer among alcohol drinkers. American Journal of Epidemiology, 150, 1138-1140.
- Bofetta, P., & Hashibe, M. (2006). Alcohol and cancer. Lancet Oncology, 7, 149-156. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(06)70577-0
- Boffetta, P., Hashibe, M., La Vecchia, C.,et. al. (2006). The burden of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking. International Journal of Cancer, 119, 884-887. doi: 10.1002/ijc.21903
- Cho, E., Smith-Warner, S.A., Ritz, J., et. al. (2004). Alcohol intake and colorectal cancer: A pooled analysis of 8 cohort studies. Annals of Internal Medicine, 140, 603-613.
- Hamajima, N., Hirose, K., Tajima, K., et. al. (2002). Alcohol tobacco and breast cancer: Collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58 515 women with breast cancer and 95 067 women without the disease. British Journal of Cancer, 87, 1234-1245. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6600596
- International Agency for Research on Cancer. (1988). Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans: Alcohol and drinking. Volume 44. Lyon: IARC.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2007). Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans: Alcoholic beverage consumption and ethyl carmbamate. Volume 96. Lyon: IARC.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Commonwealth of Australia: Australian Capital Territory.
- Rehm, J., Room, R., Monteiro, M., et. al. (2004). Alcohol use. In M. Ezzati, A.D. Lopez, A. Rodgers, & C.J.L. Murray (Eds.), Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors. World Health Organisation: Geneva.
- Seitz, H.K., Matsuzaki, S., Yokoyama, A., et. al. (2001). Alcohol and cancer. Alcoholism: Clinical and experimental research, 25, 137-143. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2001.tb02388.x
- Winstanley, M.H., Pratt, I., Chapman, K., et. al. (2011). Alcohol and cancer: A position statement from Cancer Council Australia. Medical Journal of Australia, 194, 479-482.