Alcohol and Cancer – Facts and Health Risks
While there are proven health benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation, and some specific benefits due to the natural compounds found in red wine, drinking is not always good for your health. Drinking regularly and to excess can have some serious and negative impacts on health and may even be linked to an increased risk for mesothelioma or other cancers.
Drinking alcohol in moderation during cancer treatment may be fine for some patients, but generally it should be avoided. It may aggravate side effects and studies are also investigating whether or not alcohol can increase the risk of a cancer recurrence. If you are going through treatment for mesothelioma or another type of cancer, talk to your medical team before indulging in a drink or two.
Alcohol Consumption is a Risk Factor for Cancer
Many studies have found and confirmed, over and over again, that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for developing cancer generally and for specific types of cancers. Specifically, drinking has been linked with throat and mouth cancers, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, and pancreatic cancer. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk. According to research data, approximately 3.5 percent of cancer deaths are related to alcohol consumption. Some of the specific facts about drinking and cancer from research include:
People who drink three to four alcoholic beverages per day have a two to three times increased risk of developing a head and neck cancer.
Drinking is not just a risk factor, but a known cause for liver cancer.
Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, and the risk is greatest for people with a certain genetic mutation that makes it more difficult to metabolize alcohol. Women who consume three alcoholic drinks per day have a 1.5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer.
Alcohol increases the risk of colorectal cancer, especially in men.
Regular alcohol consumption contributes to cancer development in several ways. In cancers of the mouth and throat, the risk may be caused by the fact that alcohol irritates cells in those tissues, causing damage to DNA. In the liver alcohol causes scarring and inflammation, which also damages DNA. In the colon, alcohol is converted to a compound called acetaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
Other Negative Health Impacts of Drinking
There are other ways in which alcohol impacts health in negative ways, and some of these may indirectly contribute to causing cancer. For instance, alcohol causes levels of the hormone estrogen to rise in the body. This in turn can lead to breast cancer. Another negative impact of drinking is weight gain and obesity. Being obese is also a risk factor for cancer of all types. Regular drinking prevents the body from absorbing some nutrient, which help keep cells healthy, and this can cause many health problems, including promoting cancer development.
Other health problems that excessive drinking can cause include those that are long-term. One of the biggest health issues is liver damage. Excessive drinking over time causes inflammation and scarring, which ultimately can cause the liver to fail. Alcohol consumption can also damage the brain and pancreas, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and raise blood pressure.
Drinking and Mental Health Risks
In addition the many physical health risks of drinking to excess, alcohol can also contribute to or cause mental health problems, including dependence. Alcohol addiction is a very serious disease that is difficult to overcome and that causes physical health effects, mental distress, and major impairment in everyday functioning.
There is also a strong link between drinking and mental illness. The relationship between the two is complicated. In some cases a person may have a mental illness and use alcohol to cope, while in other cases alcohol may trigger mental illness symptoms. Mood disorders, like depression, are most commonly associated with heavy alcohol use. For people with existing mental illnesses, drinking can worsen symptoms.
Drinking During and after Cancer Treatment
Cancer treatments can take a serious toll on the body and mind. Avoiding alcohol, or at least not drinking regularly or heavily, is a good idea. A very specific reason not to drink is that alcohol can interact dangerously with certain chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy also causes unpleasant side effects, like nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, and pain that alcohol will only worsen.
If you beat cancer and become a survivor, the fact that you have already had cancer puts you at risk for a recurrence or developing another type of cancer. This is an important reason to limit alcohol intake. The more risk factors, like drinking, that you can eliminate, the less likely you will be to have another battle with cancer in the future.
Drinking alcohol is not always bad, but it should be limited. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men no more than two. This does not mean that it is safe to have seven drinks just one day per week. Excessive drinking in one sitting is very harmful. If you are going through cancer treatment, make sure your medical team gives you the go ahead to have alcohol before you indulge. And even if they do, it makes sense to limit how much you drink. The healthier you can stay during and after treatment, the better you will be able to tolerate the treatment and to be able to fight your cancer and get well again.