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The Surprising Link Between Alcohol and Cancer

Categories: Other

By Dafna Kanny, PhD
Senior Scientist, Excessive Alcohol Use Prevention Team, Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, CDC’s Division of Population Health

Working at CDC often means wearing your “expert hat” wherever you go. One weekend, while pushing my shopping cart in a grocery store, I ran into a CDC colleague I haven’t seen in a while. After catching up on the latest news about our kids, we started chatting about healthy foods; after all, we were at the grocery store.

The conversation quickly turned to our dinner plans for that evening. As a scientist in CDC’s Alcohol Program, I soon found myself wearing my “expert hat” and answering questions on how much alcohol can be consumed. I based my answer on the recommendations in the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, [PDF-967KB] which define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. My colleague was surprised to hear this, as is often the case when people learn about these Guidelines.

There is often a lot of confusion about alcohol consumption in the United States. What is clear, though, is that excessive drinking or drinking too much* is a serious public health problem. It kills about 88,000 Americans each year. In 2006, it cost the United States about $224 billion ($1.90 per drink).

Often when people think about the effects of drinking too much, images of car crashes or other fatal injuries come to mind. However, alcohol is also an important—though often overlooked—risk factor for cancer. In fact, studies have shown that alcohol was responsible for about 20,000 cancer deaths in the United States in 2009. Alcohol is known to be a risk factor for cancers of the head and neck (mouth, throat, and voice box), liver, colon, rectum, and breast. According to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, this risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Yet about 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge drinks** an average of 4 times per month, and consumes an average of 8 drinks per binge episode, far exceeding the definition of moderate drinking specified in the Dietary Guidelines.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. So what should we be aware of? First, drinking too much is never a good idea. Second, if you choose to drink, do so in moderation. Lastly, there are effective ways to reduce excessive drinking that can help reduce the risk of cancer and of many other health problems too.

*Drinking too much includes binge drinking** (for women, 4 or more drinks on an occasion, within about 2 hours; for men, 5 or more drinks), heavy drinking (for women, 8 or more drinks per week; for men, 15 or more drinks per week), and any drinking by pregnant women or those younger than 21 years.

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Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm ET  -   Bryn Kyle

    I have just started to become aware of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. 25 years ago I was very focused on the health benefits of drinking wine. After all these years I have realized as I watched all my friends become sick or almost die and even die from cancer, heart disease, liver problems, autoimmune diseases etc., the common link appeared to be alcohol consumption. I was selling wine and the people I worked with were on all kinds of medication yet talking about how great wine was for your health. I have recently discovered wine can cause gut inflammation and excessive heartburn. Yeasts in beer combined with all the GMO’s cause genetic problems and antibodies that lead to autoimmune disease. Hard liquor is too high in alcohol content. It is easy to understand drinking; people do not like to feel their emotions. They want their reality distorted. Life can overwhelm people. I think a lot of people don’t care anymore. I have lost a lot of friends to alcohol. And, marijuana hasn’t been studied enough to know the long term results on health. I don’t think we need anything that alters the mind. Nothing.

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  2. Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 6:27 am ET  -   Denis

    Why do you claim EXCESSIVE when its just the normal everyday drinking ? And why is allowed to be served where children are present ? And WHy is it still advertised all over the place,sold in gas stations and evrywhere else including Pharmacies and drug stores? And how come It only pays pennies in taxes when smokers are paying 400% more in taxes and harming nobody ? Why the Hypocrisy and double Standard Saying EXCESSIVE DRINKING ? hmmmmmmmmmmmm

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