Even Low, Regular Alcohol Use Increases the Risk of Dying of Cancer

by Bob Dozor, MD

Sorry, this is a bummer!  While it’s true that regular, low level alcohol consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), unfortunately it increases the risk of cancer. Even worse, it’s not a wash – “alcohol results in 10 times as many deaths as it prevents in the United States.” (Nelson DE et al. Am J Public Health. Doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301.199)

In this new study, alcohol use accounted for 3.5% of US cancer deaths in 2009. The analysis attributed between 48% and 60% of alcohol-related cancer deaths to having on average more than 3 or more drinks per day, but 30% of the deaths were attributed to having fewer than 1.5 drinks per day. Alcohol consumption accounts for about 15% of breast cancer deaths among US women. Among men, oral cavity and pharyngeal, laryngeal and esophageal cancers account for the majority of alcohol-related cancers. Needless to say, the combination of tobacco and alcohol is particularly bad, but alcohol by itself is a bad actor.  There are hints that this increase in cancer risk may be mitigated by a highly nutritious diet (fruits and veggies) and possibly a multiple vitamin, but this hope is far from proven.

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