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Cancer Caused by Alcohol

Evidence overview


7 Types of Cancer

Science knows about the link between cancer and alcohol use since the 1980s.

The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), the WHO’s cancer research body, classifies alcohol as class one carcinogen since 1988.

The IARC working group writes: “There is sufficient evidence in humans for the

carcinogenicity of alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption causes cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum, liver (hepatocellular carcinoma) and female breast.”

Additional types

Alcohol probably also increases the risk of cancer of the stomach, and might affect the risk of some other cancers as well.

For each of these cancers, the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher is their cancer risk. But for some types of cancer, most notably breast cancer, consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk.


Alcoholic drinks are a cause of various cancers, irrespective of the type of alcoholic drink consumed.

The causal factor is the ethanol itself.

Threat to women

A woman increases her risk of breast cancer by 50% when consuming

four glasses of wine per day and by 130% when consuming eight glasses per day.

There is no identified lower threshold, meaning that even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of cancer.

A large part of the alcohol-related cancer burden originates from low-dose alcohol consumption, especially among women.


Main known risk factor

Alcohol use is one of the main known risk factors for cancer in the EU.

In a recent comprehensive study on risk factors for cancer in France, only tobacco smoking was reported to cause higher cancer incidence.

5 Facts about Alcohol and Cancer

  1. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer.

  2. The most common types of cancer due to alcohol are different for men and women.

  3. The risk of cancer from alcohol consumption increases from the first alcoholic drink.

  4. Using tobacco as well as alcohol multiplies cancer risks.

  5. Cancers due to alcohol consumption are preventable.

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7 Types of Cancer

Cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and food pipe

Alcohol use clearly raises the risk of these cancers.

Combining alcohol intake and smoking raises the risk of these cancers many times more than alcohol use or smoking on their own. This might be because alcohol can facilitate harmful chemicals in tobacco entering the cells that line the mouth, throat, and food pipe. Alcohol may also limit how these cells can repair damage to their DNA caused by the chemicals in tobacco.

Liver cancer

Long-term alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer

Regular, heavy alcohol use can damage the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring, also raising the risk of liver cancer.

Bowel (colon and rectal) cancer

Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

The evidence for this is generally stronger in men than in women, but studies have found the link in both sexes.

Breast cancer

Consuming even small amounts of alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. 

Alcohol can raise estrogen levels in the body, which may explain some of the increased risk. Avoiding or cutting back on alcohol may be an important way for women to lower their risk of breast cancer. 

Tim Naimi - Alcohol and Cancer
Movendi International

Tim Naimi - Alcohol and Cancer

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