Today is World Cancer Day, observed world over to create awareness and enable early detection of the disease. One of the most significant factors that cause cancer is alcohol. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has categorised alcohol as Group 1 carcinogen. Does this mean that everyone who drinks will get cancer? Is wine safer than beer? Let’s find answers to these critical questions. On occasion, Dr Sandeep Nayak, Senior Consultant Surgical Oncologist, Fortis Hospital, Bangalore delves into the topic, explaining the link between the two.
Alcohol and Cancer Risk Are Directly Proportional
Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer. But bear in mind that the more you drink, the higher your risk. This means, your risk is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol you drink. And the lesser you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. What Causes Cancer? Here Are The Top Factors According To Science.
Alcohol Causes 7 Different Types of Cancer
Research has found that some cancers are common in people who drink more alcohol than others. Drinking alcohol regularly can increase the risk of at least seven different cancers as it is likely that different cancers are caused in different ways. Cancers linked to alcohol include mouth cancer, pharyngeal cancer (upper throat), oesophageal cancer (food pipe), laryngeal cancer (voice box), breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.
From Beer to Wine, Everything is Dangerous
While some alcoholic drinks like wine are considered lighter than others like rum or vodka, research says that the risk is the same. All kinds of alcohol are dangerous. No single type is better or worse than the other. It is the alcohol itself that leads to the damage, regardless of whether it is in wine, beer or spirits. Cancer Cure to Become a Reality by the End of This Year?
Combination of Smoking and Alcohol Increases Your Risk
Individually, both tobacco and alcohol are two of the biggest causes of cancer. So naturally, combining smoking habit with drinking will increase the risk of many cancers of the aerodigestive tract. Together, smoking and alcohol seem to have a synergistic effect on cancer risk, meaning the combined effects of use are significantly greater than the sum of individual risks. As alcohol is a good solvent, it is possible that alcohol dissolves the cancer-causing chemicals in the smoke and makes it easily available to the body.
Alcohol Raises Risk of Recurrence
As mentioned above, many studies have found a link between alcohol intake and the risk of developing certain cancers. But it is not clear whether alcohol use after treatment can increase the risk of these cancers coming back (recurring cancers). In theory, it's possible that alcohol use might raise the risk of recurrence. For example, alcohol can increase the levels of estrogens in the body, which might increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence. But there is no strong evidence from studies to support this.
Alcohol is Empty Calorie
Alcohol is considered empty calorie as it only provides calorie with no nutrition. Also, the fact that alcohol use may contribute to weight (fat) gain, and greater body fat is a convincing cause of cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, bowel, endometrium, ovary, kidney, liver, breast (in post-menopausal women) and prostate (advanced).
Alcohol Makes Cancer Treatment Difficult
Incidentally, there are some cases during cancer treatment in which alcohol clearly should be avoided. For example, alcohol even in very small amounts - can irritate mouth sores caused by some cancer treatments, and can even make them worse. Alcohol can also interact with some drugs used during cancer treatment, which might increase the risk of harmful side effects. It's important to talk with your doctor about this if you are being treated for cancer. But for people who have completed cancer treatment, the effects of alcohol on cancer recurrence risk are largely unknown. Factors that can be important include the type of cancer, your risk of recurrence, the treatment(s) you've had, your overall health, and the other possible risks and benefits of drinking.