Having a drink after work: harmless, right? Drinking alcohol has certainly been normalized in our society. Most people are aware that alcohol use can become a harmful addiction, but that’s far from the only danger that comes along with drinking even a moderate amount.
Alcohol is actually a known carcinogen that can increase your risk of developing cancer, a fact that less than half of Americans are aware of. But does alcohol cause cancer? Here’s the sobering truth you need to hear about the dangerous relationship between alcohol and cancer.
Does Alcohol Really Cause Cancer?
It might be hard to believe that your end-of-day nightcap could be doing any harm, but research shows that even light to moderate drinking can increase your chances of getting cancer. The exact numbers depend on the type of cancer, but the more you drink, the higher your cancer risk—and even after you stop drinking, it can take years for that risk to go back down.
So does alcohol cause cancer? The answer, in short, is yes.
It’s estimated that around six percent of cancer diagnoses and over three percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. are related to alcohol consumption. This may not seem like too high of a number at first glance, but it’s significant enough that the World Health Organization has named alcohol use as one of the leading risk factors for cancer worldwide.
Alcohol and Cancer: The Science
So how, exactly, does drinking alcohol cause cancer? Researchers think that a few different factors come into play.
Your body metabolizes anything that comes through your digestive track—that basically means that bodily systems break down foods and drinks so that you can digest them. Alcohol contains ethanol, which your body metabolizes into a harmful chemical called acetaldehyde; acetaldehyde is thought to be a toxic human carcinogen that damages cells.
On top of that, alcohol may prevent your body from being able to absorb important nutrients. If your body can’t break them down enough to absorb them, then your risk for developing cancer goes up as a result of malnutrition.
This is just touching on how alcohol itself might increase cancer risk; alcoholic drinks are often pumped with additional harmful substances, like asbestos fibers and nitrosamines, that further increase our risk of getting cancer.
More research needs to be conducted to test hypotheses of exactly why and how drinking increases our cancer risk. That alcohol causes cancer, however, is an indisputable fact.
What Types of Cancer Does Alcohol Cause?
It’s well known, even outside of the medical community, that alcohol damages your liver – but that’s far from the only organ that drinking damages. Drinking has been shown to be linked with many different cancers, including some types that you’d never expect.
Alcohol and Liver Cancer
Alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of liver cancer, as well as other liver diseases like cirrhosis. Liver cancer might develop because of the intense damage that alcohol inflicts onto this organ.
Alcohol and Breast Cancer
Alcohol increases levels of estrogen in the body, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Even a small amount of alcohol can increase women’s breast cancer risk, so it’s especially important for women who are already high-risk to cut back on their drinking.
Alcohol and Prostate Cancer
Research has shown that even moderate drinking increased men’s likelihood of developing prostate cancer later on in life. Some studies have found that liquor, but not beer or wine, is associated with the risk.
Alcohol and Colon Cancer
Alcohol use has been shown to increase the risk of both colon and rectal cancer, especially in men—but some women experience this risk, too.
Alcohol and Pancreatic Cancer
Alcohol use, especially heavy drinking, can cause pancreatitis, which makes you more likely to develop pancreatic cancer at some time in your life.
Alcohol and Esophageal Cancer
Many veterans are social smokers who light up a cigarette when they drink. Research shows that not only does alcohol or smoking alone increase your risk for esophageal and other mouth and throat cancers, but when combined, these two habits increase your risk for this type of cancer many times over.
How Much Alcohol Is Safe to Drink?
Of course, we’re not saying that you’re guaranteed to develop cancer if you have an alcoholic beverage every now and then. With that said, in terms of cancer risk, there’s no “safe” amount of alcohol; even one drink a day increases your odds.
The research that’s been conducted shows that even light drinkers have a modestly increased risk of developing cancer at some point in their lives. That’s because our risk of getting cancer goes up with every single alcoholic beverage we consume; in other words, people who have even one drink a day will be more at risk than someone who never drinks at all.
Of course, not every person who drinks will develop cancer as a result. In fact, most won’t. But if you’re a veteran and evaluating your risk, it’s important to know that alcohol does increase your risk of developing cancer.
Help for Veterans Is Out There
So does alcohol cause cancer? Unfortunately for drinkers everywhere, it does.
The good news is that all is not lost. Although cancer risk doesn’t decrease immediately after you stop drinking, it does start to go down after a number of years. Moreover, quitting now means not increasing your cancer risk any further. That means it’s not too late; even if you drink now, the sooner you’re able to stop, the sooner you can start lowering your cancer risk little by little.
Here at Heroes’ Mile, we understand that drinking is normalized as a way to cope with the invisible wounds that come along with military life. We have helped thousands of veterans take steps toward an alcohol-free life using our trauma-informed residential program that was created for veterans by veterans. From detox to outpatient treatment to life after recovery, we’re here for you.
Are you ready to quit alcohol for good? Call our respectful and friendly admissions specialists at 888-838-6692 or ask your questions online for information on how we can help you recover and start living the life you deserve.
Some chemotherapy medications can have negative interactions with alcohol. It’s best to ask your doctor about your specific situation and whether it’s safe to drink alcohol during your treatment.
Our bodies turn the ethanol in alcohol into a harmful substance called acetaldehyde. This chemical damages the DNA inside our cells and causes them to repair themselves incorrectly—which leads to cancer.
Most studies have found that it’s the ethanol in alcohol that leads to cancer, not the type of drink. A glass of wine contains the same amount of ethanol as a shot of liquor; of course, a drink with more than a standard serving size of liquor will contain more ethanol and therefore be more likely to cause cancer than a standard glass of wine.
Yes, alcohol is a human carcinogen. Even moderate drinking has been shown to increase an individual’s risk for several different types of cancer.
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