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    Alcohol and Cancer: Know the risks

    Most of us are aware of the risks related to drinking alcohol, such as hangovers, alcohol poisoning, and impaired driving. But did you know that drinking alcohol can also increase your risk of cancer? If you didn’t know, you’re not alone. 4 out of 5 Americans don’t know that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer.

    Read on to learn more about the connection between drinking alcohol and cancer, and how you can protect your loved ones from alcohol-related health risks.

    Drinking alcohol increases cancer risk

    There is significant research showing that drinking alcohol can cause certain kinds of cancer. The World Health Organization found that 750,000, or 4%, of cancers diagnosed worldwide in 2020 were alcohol-related.

    Alcohol-related cancers include:

    • Head and neck cancer
    • Mouth and throat cancer
    • Liver cancer
    • Esophageal (connecting the throat with the stomach) cancer
    • Breast cancer
    • Colon and rectal cancer

    The more alcohol one drinks, the more at risk they are for developing these kinds of cancer. While drinking heavily causes the most risk, even just one drink per day can increase the risk of cancer.

    Why does alcohol increase cancer risk?

    There are a few reasons why alcohol can increase cancer risk:

    • Alcohol is broken down by the body into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde which can cause cell damage to increase, and this can, in turn, lead to cancer.
    • Alcohol can also interfere with our hormones. For example, it may increase the levels of estrogen in the body, which is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
    • Additionally, cancer has the potential to interfere with the body’s ability to absorb essential cancer-preventing nutrients, such as folate. Low folate levels are associated with a higher risk of developing some cancers.

    Prevention is key to helping your teen or young adult reduce their risk of developing alcohol-related cancers. Inform them of these health risks, and make sure you do it early. If they do not already drink, let them know the risks of drinking and encourage them not to start drinking for any reason. Ensure that your loved one’s health care providers are regularly performing alcohol screenings.

    While it is best not to drink at all, if you or a loved one  of legal drinking age chooses to drink, it is important to do so in moderation. This means two drinks or less in a day for those assigned male at birth and one drink or less for those assigned female.

    From a public health standpoint, it is important to make people more aware of the link between alcohol use and cancer risk. There is a movement to add warning labels about alcohol and cancer-related risks to alcohol packaging, just like there are on cigarette packages. In fact, according to a   by the University of Virginia, 65% of those surveyed were in favor of this. Strategies to reduce alcohol consumption also include raising alcohol taxes and regulating the availability of places to purchase alcohol.

    However, until these steps happen, you will likely be your loved one’s best bet for understanding this concern.

    If your loved one is struggling with excessive drinking, we can help support you. Click here for resources.

    For tips on how to prevent alcohol use, visit our guide here.