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LMU 18 – Alcohol and Cancer Risk: A Comprehensive Review for Public Health


LMU 18 – Alcohol and Cancer Risk: A Comprehensive Review for Public Health

Source: Journal Addiction, July 21, 2016

Lifestyle Medicine Update (August 7, 2016)


Alcohol consumption has been a part of human culture for centuries, but scientific evidence has brought to light its link to cancer risk in recent years. This article aims to examine the association between alcohol consumption and cancer development thoroughly. The 2016 research review published in the journal “Addiction” was pivotal in understanding the extent of the risks. This comprehensive review will discuss the findings from that study and other relevant research to emphasize the wake-up call for public health and the need for awareness campaigns to address this significant issue.

The Association between Alcohol and Cancer

The study published in “Addiction” shed light on the undeniable relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer risk. It revealed that even light to moderate drinking can increase the likelihood of developing seven primary cancers: oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and female breast. Surprisingly, the type of alcoholic beverage did not alter the risks; the dangers were equally present for hard liquor, beer, wine, and other spirits.

Debunking Myths: Red Wine and Cardiovascular Benefits

One of the prevailing myths is that red wine offers protective benefits for the heart. However, the evidence does not support this claim. Public health organizations like the UK and New Zealand medical associations, the Cancer Society, and National Heart Foundation have adopted evidence-based position statements to dispel such notions and emphasize alcohol’s carcinogenicity.

Global Impact of Alcohol on Cancer Mortality

From a global perspective, alcohol contributed to approximately half a million cancer-related deaths in 2012, accounting for 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide. The heaviest drinkers face the highest risks, but even low to moderate alcohol consumption significantly burdens public health systems. The impact on women’s health is especially concerning, with studies showing increased risks of breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption.

Reversible Risks: The Path to Abstinence

Despite the alarming risks, there is hope in reducing cancer risks. The study found that individuals who ceased drinking experienced a decline in cancer risks over time. For example, the risk of laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers decreased by approximately 15% within five years of quitting, and the risk of primary liver cancer reduced by 6-7% per year of non-drinking. After over two decades of abstinence, the chances for these cancers eventually matched those of never-drinkers.

Beyond the Seven Prime Tissue Sites: Other Susceptible Organs

While the seven prime tissue sites have been thoroughly studied, emerging research suggests alcohol’s causal contribution to cancer in other areas, including the pancreas, prostate, and skin (melanoma). Heavy drinking occasions and average consumption have also been associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Empowering Individuals to Make Healthier Choices

The findings from various studies highlight the critical role of public awareness campaigns in combating alcohol-related cancer risks. Educating the public about the dangers of alcohol consumption and debunking myths surrounding its potential benefits is essential. Empowering individuals to make informed decisions and adopt healthier lifestyles can significantly reduce cancer risk.

Recommendations for Reducing Cancer Risk

Reducing alcohol consumption is a critical factor in mitigating cancer risk. For those who choose to drink, limiting intake to 1-2 drinks per week can help minimize the dangers. Additionally, adopting prudent dietary practices, maintaining ideal body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding exposure to other carcinogens are vital steps in further reducing cancer risk.


In conclusion, the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer risk is unequivocal. The 2016 study published in “Addiction” served as a wake-up call for public health, highlighting the undeniable link between alcohol and several types of cancer. Debunking myths surrounding red wine’s protective benefits and cardiovascular advantages is crucial in shaping public perception. Empowering individuals to make informed decisions, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyle choices, can lead to a substantial reduction in cancer-related morbidity and mortality.

As we move forward, collective efforts are needed to promote public health, spread awareness about alcohol’s impact on cancer risk, and implement strategies that support individuals in making healthier choices. We can work towards a healthier and cancer-resistant society through such collaborative initiatives.


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Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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