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Can Too Much Alcohol Cause Cancer?

Can Alcohol Cause Cancer? Positive Sobriety Institute

According to a recent study, the more you drink, the higher your risk for colorectal cancer. Why does this happen? Bacteria that normally live in the colon and rectum can convert alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA, and it’s been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.

Alcohol not only increases the risk of developing polyps (benign growths that have the potential to turn into colorectal cancer) but also may lead to the development of polyps in the colon.

But colorectal cancer may not be the only cancer connected with alcohol use. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use has been linked with cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, liver, colon and rectum and breast. Alcohol may also increase the risk of cancers of the pancreas and stomach.

How Does Alcohol Increase Risk of Cancer?

Researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly how alcohol increases cancer risk. In fact, there could be several ways it can raise the risk, and it might depend on the type of cancer.

For example, alcohol can act as an irritant, especially in the mouth and throat. Cells damaged by alcohol may try to repair themselves, which could lead to DNA changes that could lead to cancer.

Alcohol and its byproducts can also damage the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring. As liver cells try to repair the damage, they can end up with mistakes in their DNA, which could develop into cancer.

Nutrients, Hormones and Body Weight

Researchers say alcohol may affect your ability to absorb some nutrients, such as folate, a vitamin that cells in the body need to stay healthy. Absorption of nutrients can be even worse in heavy drinkers, playing a role in breast and colorectal cancer.

Alcohol also can raise levels of estrogen, a hormone important in the growth and development of breast tissue. This could affect women’s risk of breast cancer.

In addition, too much alcohol adds extra calories to the diet, which can contribute to weight gain. Being overweight or obese is known to increase the risks of many types of cancer.

Does the Type of Alcohol You Drink Matter?

Alcohol is the common term for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, the chemical substance found in beer, wine, and liquor. Studies show that the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol-related.

So the type of alcohol you consume doesn’t affect your cancer risk. The amount of alcohol you drink over time, not the type (beers, wines liquors, etc.) seems to be the most important factor.

If you’re concerned that you or your loved one’s heavy drinking may be increasing their risk for cancer, Positive Sobriety Institute can help. Call us today to speak with an addiction specialist and start leading a healthier life.

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Positive Sobriety: The Book
Daniel H. Angres, MD

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