Light Drinking Increases Cancer Risk in Women and Men

A new study is showing that even light to moderate drinking is increasing the risk for both men and women when it comes to certain alcohol-related cancers. Light to moderate drinking includes up to one drink per day for a woman and up to two drinks per day for a man. The study was just published in BMJ today, and it is suggesting that the moderate drinking was associated with a small increased risk of cancer in both men and women.


The study shows that the risk was tied mostly to alcohol-related cancers, such as breast cancer, and the risk was elevated in all types of women. When it came to the men, the risk of alcohol-related cancers was only increased if the man was a smoker or had been a smoker. If a man had never smoked, then there was no increased risk seen. There have already been previous studies that have linked heavy drinking to an increased risk of many types of cancers, but it was not really known what the risk was when there was light or moderate drinking. The role of alcohol in terms of being independent from smoking has also been less clear, until the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and Brigham, and Women’s Hospital in Boston got involved. These researchers wanted to know whether there was an increased cancer risk with light or moderate alcohol use.

The researchers used data from two different studies in the United States, which tracked down the health of over 88,084 women and 47,881 men, and the tracking was done for up to 30 years. The researchers then assessed the total cancer risk as well as the known alcohol-related types of cancers, which included colorectal cancer, female breast cancer, oral cavity, esophagus, pharynx, liver, and larynx cancer. The researchers used the definition of light to moderate drinking being up to one drink per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men. One standard drink is about a small glass of wine or a 355 ml bottle of beer. The influential factors like body mass index, family cancer history, history of cancer, smoking, diet, physical activity levels, age, and ethnicity were all taken into account for the study.

There were 19.269 cancers in women and 7,571 cancers in men diagnosed during the follow up period, and the researchers found out that light to moderate drinking did create a small but not really significant increase in risk for total cancer. This was found in both men and women regardless of smoking. When it came to the alcohol-related cancers, the increase was seen in men who had smoked at some point in their lives, but the increase was not seen among men who had never smoked. The risk for women when it came to alcohol-related cancers was still increased even in the women who had never smoked before, and the main increase was seen in breast cancer. Even if the women only had up to one drink a day the increase was quite clear.

The researchers warn that people who have family history of cancer should really limit the amounts of alcohol they consume, because this study does show an increased risk for alcohol-related cancers, even if the person is lightly drinking. The researchers say that more studies will need to be done in order to figure out the risk between smoking and drinking when it comes to the increased risk of cancers, especially alcohol-related cancers, but it is always a good idea to stop smoking now to limit your risk. The only bad news about the results of this study is that for men, even if you stop smoking, it might be too late in terms of having an increased risk for cancer, although that risk does seem to not be very significant according to this particular study. The real fact of the matter is that women who know they have a family history of cancer, specifically breast cancer, really need to watch their alcohol consumption. Instead of women drinking one drink per day, it should be taken down a few notches to a few drinks per week at the most. The best thing to do would be stop drinking all together, although if that is not possible, then definitely cut back.