That smooth brandy and sparkly champagne looks enticing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it could be putting you at risk for cancer – and you should know the facts during Alcohol Awareness Month.
A 2013 report indicates that alcohol causes about 1 in every 30 cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Another report from the National Cancer Institute shows that even one drink a day could be a cancer risk factor.
And yet, we often forget it’s a problem. Why is that? Maybe we’ve raised so much awareness around other cancer risk factors, like smoking (read more), that we don’t notice other problems right under our noses.
Let’s face it, have you ever seen a “Surgeon General’s Warning” on a pricey bottle of wine?
But the fact is that alcohol is consistently linked with a long list of cancers from the American Cancer Society (ACS), including mouth and throat, voice box, colorectal, liver, esophageal, pancreas and breast. The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services also lists alcohol as a known carcinogen. The more you drink, the higher your risk.
Ethanol, the specific type of alcohol used in alcoholic beverages, is the culprit. It doesn’t matter what you drink – over time, the foamy beer, the martini with olives, and everything else in our alcohol lineup can contribute to your risk of cancer.
How does alcohol cause cancer?
We don’t completely understand the way the process works, but here are a few factorsthat may contribute to the link between alcohol and cancer.
Tissue damage: Alcohol is an irritant that damages cells, particularly in the throat, mouth and liver. Your cells may try to repair themselves, leading to DNA changes that can trigger cancer. In the colon and rectum, alcohol may be changed to acetaldehyde, another known carcinogen.
Helping other harmful chemicals enter your body: People who smoke and drink are even more likely to get cancer, because alcohol helps tobacco smoke break down and enter the cells lining your digestive tract.
Lowering your folate levels: Alcohol prevents you from absorbing folate, a necessary vitamin that keeps your cells healthy. People with low folate levels are particularly susceptible to colorectal and breast cancers.
Raising estrogen levels: This also puts women at an increased risk for breast cancer.
Contributing to weight gain: The extra calories in alcohol may put you at higher risk for obesity – which, in turn, is a cancer risk factor.
How can you avoid the alcohol and cancer risk?
The ACS recommends that if you drink alcohol, you limit yourself to 2 drinks a day (for men) or 1 drink a day (for women). Ideally you should stop altogether. And, know that drinking larger amounts on a few days of the week, and nothing on other days, does not reduce your risk.
It’s also recommended that many people not drink alcohol at all, including children and teenagers; women who are or may become pregnant; and anyone operating machinery, taking medicine, or suffering from medical conditions like liver disease or pancreatitis.
Of course, always remember that abstaining from alcohol to avoid its link to cancer and risk factors is a health decision that is your choice to make.
Talk to us in the comments. Have you cut down or avoided alcohol for its cancer risks? Please share your stories with us!