When it comes to alcohol and cancer, the bottom line is as clear as vodka: less is better.
It doesn’t matter what type of alcoholic drink you choose—wine, beer or liquor—or your level of tolerance. It’s the carcinogenic compounds, such as ethanol, acetaldehyde and others, contained in all types of alcohol that causes harm. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can increase your chances of developing cancer, with the risk increasing the more you drink. So, the less you drink, the lower the risk of cancer.
Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health outlines the health risks of alcohol and can help you make an informed decision on whether you drink and how much. These guidelines were recently updated to reflect the latest evidence on the topic.
The guidelines suggest if you do consume alcoholic drinks, 1-2 drinks per week is low risk for overall health.
As consumption goes up from there, so do the risks:
- Three to six drinks per week puts you at a moderate risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast and colon cancer.
- Seven or more drinks per week puts you at increasingly high risk of heart disease or stroke.
Examples of one standard drink include:
- 341 mL (12 oz) bottle of beer or cider/cooler (5% alcohol content)
- 142 mL (5 oz) glass of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 43 mL (1.5 oz) distilled alcohol – rum, gin, whiskey, etc. (40% alcohol content)
It’s important to remember that these guidelines are not meant to be averaged over several days. “Saving up” drinks for the weekend (binge drinking) can be dangerous.
Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health for more information.
Drinking and smoking tobacco together will
increase your risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box) and esophagus (food pipe) many times more than drinking or smoking alone.
This might be because alcohol may make it easier for harmful chemicals from tobacco to get inside the cells that line the mouth, throat and esophagus and into the bloodstream.
For more information about tobacco and cancer, visit the
Here are a few suggestions to help reduce how often and how much you drink:
- Try a low-alcohol (or no-alcohol) beer, wine or spirit.
- Alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, such as sparkling water or soda with lime.
- Schedule a few alcohol-free days each week.
- Track how much you drink and when so you know when you’ve reached your limit.
- Eat and drink water before and while you drink alcohol. This will help you feel full so you drink less alcohol.
- Tell your friends about your plan to limit drinking and the reasons why. They might not know that alcohol consumption is linked to cancer!
Whether you’re cutting alcohol out of your life completely or cutting down, you may notice some changes in the way you feel better. Whatever your reason, the good news is there are great short- and long-term benefits to scaling back your drinking, including:
- More energy throughout the day
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved concentration
- Weight loss
- Lower blood sugar
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk of stroke, hypertension, cancer and liver disease
- For information on treatment options and resources throughout B.C., call the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441. In Greater Vancouver, call 604-660-9382.
- Call 8-1-1 any time of the day or night for help navigating the mental health and/or substance use system
- To better understand how substances play a role in your or a loved ones’ life, visit the
Here to Help website. This website also features detailed information on substance use and mental health.
Mental Health and Substance Use Supports in B.C., an online resource of over 6,000 mental health and substance use services.