Alcohol is the common term for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, a chemical substance found in beer, wine, and liquor, as well as in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products. Most evidence suggest ethanol is the culprit for cancer risk, not other substances in the drink.
Many studies have found the association between alcohol consumption and risk of cancer. The more you drink alcohol, the higher is the risk of cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and other agencies have identified alcohol consumption as being causally associated with seven cancers; mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and breast.
Cancers of mouth, throat and larynx(voice box)
Alcohol use increases the chances of these cancers. People who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day ( approximately 3.5 or more drinks per day) have at least a two to three times greater risk of getting these cancers than non drinkers.
Furthermore, drinking alcohol and smoking together raises the risk of these cancer even more than drinking or smoking alone. This might be because alcohol can help harmful chemicals in tobacco enter the cells lining the mouth and throat. Alcohol also limit repair of damaged DNA induced by chemicals in tobacco.
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a particular type of esophageal cancer called “esophageal squamous cell carcinoma ”. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of alcohol-related esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
Colon and rectal cancer
Alcohol consumption has been linked to increased risk of colon and rectum cancer. The evidence for association between alcohol use and colorectal cancer is generally found stronger in men than in women, although studies have found the link between both sexes.
A meta-analysis of 57 cohort and case control studies which assess the association between alcohol use and colorectal cancer risk revealed that people who drank 50 or more grams of alcohol per day had 1.5 times higher risk of getting colorectal cancer than nondrinkers or occasional drinkers.
Alcoholism is an independent risk factor for, and a primary cause of liver cancer( hepatocellular carcinoma). Regular, heavy alcohol use can damage the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring which might raise the risk of liver cancer.
Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. This risk may be especially high in women who do not get enough folate (vitamin B) in their diet or through supplements.Alcohol might affect the body’s ability to absorb folate. Our bodies need folate to make DNA, other genetic material and for cell division. Absorption of nutrients can be even worse in heavy drinkers, who often have low levels of folate. These low levels may play a role in the risk of some cancers, such as breast cancer.
Alcohol can also raise levels of estrogen, a hormone responsible for the growth and development of breast tissue. This could affect a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Women who consume 2 to 5 drinks daily are 40 percent more likely to get breast cancer than non drinkers. However, just 1 drink a day can raise a woman’s cancer risk by about 7 percent.
Alcohol alters the level of sex hormones which increase cancer risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Alcohol consumption equivalent of 3 or 4 drinks a week by women already undergoing breast cancer treatment increases the risk of a recurrence, especially for postmenopausal and overweight or obese women. However, occasional drinking is not likely to cause a problem.
The American Cancer Society recommends to limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women. The recommended limit is lower for women because of their smaller body size and because their bodies tend to break down alcohol more slowly. These daily limits do not mean it’s safe to drink larger amounts on fewer days of the week, which can still lead to health, social, and other problems.
According to the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, some groups of people should avoid alcoholic beverages completely. These include:
Children and teens
People who cannot limit their drinking or who are recovering from alcoholism
Women who are or may become pregnant
People who plan to drive or operate machinery
People who take part in other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination or in situations where impaired judgment could cause injury or death
People taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines that interact with alcohol
People with certain medical conditions (such as liver disease or pancreatitis)