Alcohol can be a source of enjoyment, but you may be surprised that it is a risk factor for cancer. The more you drink alcohol, the more likely you are to have cancer. So, how does alcohol cause cancer in the body? Read on.

Can alcohol cause cancer in the body? 4 ways

Damage to body tissues

Ethanol is a class of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. It is metabolized by the liver to produce acetaldehyde, a compound that stops our cells from repairing damaged tissues.  A cell can begin growing out of control and create a  cancer tumor when this happens.

Effect on absorption of folate or other nutrients

Nutrients like vitamins A, C, D, E, and folate help protect the body from cancer. Alcohol prevents the body from efficiently breaking down and absorbing these nutrients. This weakens the body and predisposes it to cancers.

Effects on estrogen or other hormones

Alcohol increases the level of estrogen in our body. Estrogen is a hormone responsible for making our cells grow and divide. The more cell division there is, the more likely for cancer to develop.

Effects on body weight

Alcohol supplies extra calories, which leads to weight gain or obesity.  Being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk for cancer.

Does alcohol have carcinogenic substances

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. The ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down to acetaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

Alcoholic beverages also contain carcinogenic contaminants formed during fermentation like nitrosamines, asbestos fibers, phenols, and hydrocarbons.

Nearly 750,000 or 4% of cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide in 2020, could be attributed to alcohol consumption, according to a new study from the World Health Organization (WHO).

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The kinds of Cancer a person can get include the following:

  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Throat Cancer
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Colon and Rectal Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Breast Cancer
  • Liver Cancer

For each of the above cancers, your risk depends on how much alcohol you consume.

According to the American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, it is best not to drink alcohol. People who choose to drink alcohol should limit themselves to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

However, sometimes, it is not easy to limit alcohol intake. The American Cancer Society is recommending these guidelines to keep you on guard.

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.

Keep your weight within the healthy range to avoid weight gain.

  • Be physically active.

Get moderate exercise of 75-150 minutes each week.

  • Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, or watching TV.
    • Sitting escalates to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer, as well as dying young.

Some Tips to reduce sitting time

  • Limit time spent watching TV and using other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Use a stationary bike or treadmill when you do watch TV.
  • Use stairs rather than an elevator.
  • If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
  • Exercise at lunch with your coworkers, family, or friends
  • Take an exercise break at work to stretch or take a quick walk.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern. This includes:
    • Keeping down your intake of sugar, sodium, and fats
    • Consuming a variety of nutritious vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
    • Hydrating and drinking health beverages such as tea and fruit juices.

If alcohol can cause cancer, why isn’t it banned?

Alcohol remains legal in some parts of the US even if there is evidence that it is harmful. Banning it centuries ago failed.

However, the  Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) law specifies that 21 years is the legal age when an individual can purchase alcoholic beverages.


Let us not forget that alcohol is more than just a social lubricant. It’s a drug that is commonly used in the world.

It is better not to drink at all. However, if you need to,  limit your intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. The less you drink, the lesser your cancer risk.

If you want to learn more about alcohol and other drugs, check out the Ovus Medical website.

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