Alcohol and the increased risk of cancer
There is a strong scientific consensus that drinking alcohol can cause several types of cancer. The US Dapartment of Health and Human Services, lists the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.
Not surprisingly, the evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks, and the more they drink regularly over time, the higher the risk becomes.
Patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the seven types of cancer.
- Mouth & upper throat cancer
- Cancer of the larynx
- Cancer of the Oesophagus
- Breast cancer in women
- Liver cancer
- Bowel cancer
Of these, the cancers that have the most cancer cases linked to drinking alcohol are bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth and throat cancer.
Why does alcohol cause cancer?
New research published in the journal Nature and part-funded by Cancer Research UK is helping to get closer to answering that question. The research highlights that it is one of the chemicals alcohol gets broken down into, namely acetaldehyde, that seems to be the main problem.
When alcohol is broken down by the body to be converted into energy, it is to a strict process. The weakest link in this process is acetaldehyde. If the process is broken at this weakest link and acetaldehyde isn’t broken down any further, it builds up in cells, damaging stem cell DNA and so causing cancer.
In addition to the problems caused with alcohol and the breakdown of ethanol (alcohol) to acetaldehyde, there are also other negative ways alcohol increases our cancer risks;
- Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that are associated with lowering cancer risk including vitamin A, vitamin B complex, folate and vitamins C,D and E
- Alcohol increases blood levels of estrogen which has been linked to breast cancer in women
Research has also shown that people who use both alcohol and tobacco have a much greater risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus.
How to cut down on alcohol
So the message is clear, if alcohol increases the risk of developing some cancers it makes sense to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. The government’s guidelines of 14 units per week is a good start, and by making a few simple changes to your routine, you can make a big difference to how much you are drinking.
|1||Keep a record – like food diaries, drinks diaries or trackers allow you to keep an eye on how much you are actually drinking. The NHS has a drinks tracker you can use.|
|2||Have alcohol-free days in your week – just make sure you don’t binge on the days you are drinking.|
|3||When drinking alcohol at home, start to use a measure so you know how much that one drink is.|
|4||When out socialising, alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones.|
|5||If having alcohol at home is tempting you to drink more than you should, don’t stock up on it. Try only buying alcohol when you are planning to drink it.|
|6||Identify the extra drinks you can do without. Do you always have a glass of wine when cooking? Could you restrict your drinking to only when you are eating?|
|7||Drink to the end of your glass before topping up so you get a real idea of how many glasses you have had.|
|8||Use smaller glasses, even if you have the same amount of alcohol in them. Smaller glasses can make people drink less.|
|9||Switch to low alcohol or alcohol free versions of the drinks you like. These have improved no end in recent years, so if you have been put off alcohol free beer in the past, maybe it’s time it give it another go.|
|10||White or rose wine can be diluted with ice or soda to make a spritzer and give you a longer drink.|
|11||Peer pressure can be difficult to handle but have your excuses ready. Say you are saving money, are on a fitness drive or have to be up really early in the morning. If you are buying in rounds get yourself a non-alcoholic or low alcoholic drink.|
If you are worried your drinking has gone beyond being a social drinker, take a look the signs to look out for.
If you are worried you may have an alcohol addiction, you can call Linwood House on 01226 422 326 for confidential advice. We’re open 24/7.