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Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Cancer

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For many, alcohol is a way to relax on weekends or unwind at the end of a busy day, while for others its use may be an addiction. Regardless of why a person drinks, that glass of wine or can of beer could mean an increased risk of health problems like cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive drinking results in an estimated 2.3 million years of potential loss of life annually. While many health problems come from excessive drinking, even people who enjoy a single drink a day could be at risk. To avoid this risk people should understand what types of cancer are most associated with alcohol.


Mouth cancer, also referred to as oral cancer, is commonly associated with the heavy use of alcohol. This type of cancer can affect all or any one part of the mouth, including gums, lips, floor and roof of the mouth and tongue. It is a type of head and neck cancer. According to researchers, approximately 80 percent of people with mouth cancer drink alcohol. While heavy alcohol use is a risk factor, it is heightened significantly when combined with the use of tobacco products.


Researchers have yet to determine the exact cause of esophageal cancer. However, alcohol consumption increases the risk for the condition. As with other types of cancer, the risk is heightened when a person both smokes and drinks heavily. Fortunately, the risk may be reversed if a person stops drinking alcohol and practices patience. It can take up to 16 years for risk level to drop back to the level of a person who does not drink.


Cancer of the throat is another type of head and neck cancer that has alcohol as one of its risk factors. Researchers at the American Cancer Society report that the risk to people who regularly drink alcohol is six times higher than the risk to people who do not. Four drinks a day increases this risk by double or triple. Add cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol and the risk increases 100 times.


Alcohol is a major risk factor for liver cancer. Alcohol damages the liver, causing scarring called cirrhosis. Although a damaged liver can function for quite a while, cirrhotic tissue is much more susceptible to developing cancer.

  • WebMD: Understanding Liver Cancer – The Basics – What Causes Liver Cancer


Researchers have found that women who have one drink a day have a 7 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer. The higher the number of drinks, the greater the risk. Alcohol poses a risk in several ways. When the liver has to process alcohol, it cannot process estrogen. More circulating estrogen increases breast cancer risk. Alcohol also decreases the amount of folic acid found in the blood. Folic acid helps cell repair and less of it may increase the possibility of cell mutations linked to cancer.


Cancer isn’t the only way alcohol affects the body. Injuries and deaths linked to alcohol include those from car accidents and drownings. Alcohol can increase other risky behaviors and contribute to unprotected sex, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and violence, and assault. Long-term and excessive alcohol addiction can result in cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, depression, stroke, and other neurological problems.

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