Drinking alcohol is known to lead to the development of seven types of cancers, including breast, colon, mouth and throat cancers.
Alcohol is known to cause cancer in humans. Your risk of cancer grows the more you drink and if you drink for a long time.
There is strong evidence that drinking alcohol causes cancer in many sites in the body, including cancers in the breast, mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), esophagus, colon, rectum and liver.
Exactly how alcohol affects our health is complex and not yet fully understood. It affects many parts of the body and the impact will depend on factors such as genetics, nutrition and other health-related behaviours like smoking. All these things can influence the level of cancer risk for each person.
There are likely different ways that alcohol can raise cancer risk:
- When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde which can damage DNA over time.
- Alcohol can affect the cells in your mouth and throat, making it easier for cancer-causing substances, like tobacco smoke, to get absorbed.
- Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones in the blood that increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol is high in calories and can contribute to unwanted weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of cancer.
- In Canada, alcohol use was linked to 7,000 new cases of cancer in 2020, including 24 per cent of breast cancer cases, 20 per cent of colon cancers, 15 per cent of rectal cancers and 13 per cent of oral and liver cancers.
- If alcohol consumption was reduced by 50 per cent now, more than 70,000 cancer cases could be prevented over the next two decades.