Alcohol and Cancer

What is the link between alcohol and cancer risk?

According to the expert report from the American Institute for Cancer Research, Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, there is convincing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus. The risk of upper respiratory tract cancer is greatly increased if drinkers also smoke. Alcohol also increases the risk of liver cancer and the risk for colon, rectal and breast cancer.

How does drinking alcohol increase cancer risk?

When you drink alcohol, the sensitive tissues of your upper-respiratory tract are directly exposed to alcohol in beverages, causing damage to cells and possibly initiating cancer. Cancer of the liver is probably preceded by alcoholic liver cirrhosis which develops after years of drinking. There is less known about how drinking alcohol affects the development of other cancers.

What can I do to lower my cancer risk?

One thing you can do is choose not to drink alcohol, or choose to drink it only in moderation. That's no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women.

One drink equals: 1 bottle or can of beer (12 oz), 1 small glass of wine (5 oz), 1 shot of 80 proof liquor (1.5 oz).

However there is mounting evidence that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.  Even one drink a day raises your cancer risk!  See this link.

Why is the recommended limit different for women and men?

Alcohol affects women and men differently. A woman's body has more fat and less muscle than a man's. Alcohol can be diluted into water-holding muscle tissue, but not into fat tissue. Therefore alcohol cannot be diluted as quickly in her body as in his. Also, a woman cannot metabolize alcohol as quickly as a man. Therefore, alcohol stays in her bloodstream longer.

Does drinking present special risks for women?

The risk for developing breast cancer, the second most common cancer in women in the States, rises with increased alcohol consumption. Women at a high risk for breast cancer should consider not drinking. Women develop alcohol-related health problems, such as cirrhosis of the liver, faster than men who drink the same amount. Finally, alcohol can severely injure a pregnant woman's unborn child.

Is it true that drinking alcohol can lower my risk for heart disease?

There is evidence that drinking modest amounts of alcohol is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in men, and perhaps women. However, drinking higher amounts of alcohol raises the risk of cancer along with risks for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, birth defects, inflammation of the pancreas, damage to the brain and heart, malnutrition, osteoporosis, accidents, violence and suicide. There are better ways to decrease your heart disease risk, including exercising, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, lowering saturated fats and trans fats in your diet, controlling blood pressure and not smoking.

This material was extracted mainly from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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