Author: Holly Large, Editorial Assistant

If one of your New Year’s resolutions happens to be staying sober, scientists at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have some good news for you: not drinking alcohol, or even just cutting back on the bevs, can reduce your risk of some cancers.

There’s already evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of some cancers; according to WHO estimates, more than 740,000 global cancer cases in 2020 were caused by alcohol use. But as report author Farhad Islami told STAT News, “[W]e wanted to know, what if people stop drinking?”

Islami was part of a group of 15 scientists investigating the impact of reducing or ceasing alcohol intake on cancer risk, reviewing over 90 published studies over the course of four months. From this data, the team discovered that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that cutting back on alcohol could be linked to a reduced risk of oral and oesophageal cancers. There was also limited evidence of a reduction in risk for laryngeal, colorectal, and breast cancers.

One of the key contributors to risk, the researchers found, was a toxin called acetaldehyde. Also known as ethanal, acetaldehyde is produced by the breakdown of alcohol in the liver. It plays a role in nasty hangovers and, as the studies suggested, increases someone’s risk of cancer. Drinking less alcohol reduces exposure to such a carcinogen and thus, the risks that come with it.

In reviewing the studies, the researchers also identified some gaps that, with further investigation, could help improve understanding of the link between quitting alcohol and cancer risk to an even greater degree.

“The issue with the evidence now is that many of the studies that were available just reported the risk for former drinkers without showing when they stopped drinking, how long they stopped drinking, or whether people continued drinking but reduced their consumption,” explained Islami. “We don’t have much data on that. It’d be great to have studies now that ask more questions about the duration of alcohol cessation or reduction.”

The WHO has previously stated that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe for our health, let alone going so hard that the air around you tests positive for alcohol. As such, it’s not just your cancer risk that could see benefit with participation in Dry January – quitting alcohol could also help to improve your brain function, as well as put an end to the dreaded prospect of hangxiety.

The report is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.