A recent New York Times (NYT) article is called, “Should Your Cocktail Come With a Cancer Warning?” In October, the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Public Health Association, and other groups advocated for just that. The groups say there is strong evidence that alcohol can cause certain cancers, and that every alcoholic beverage should have a warning label.
Alcohol Causes Certain Types of Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol has been linked to cancers of the esophagus, liver, mouth, throat, voice box, breast, colon and rectum. They add that “alcohol probably also increases the risk of cancer of the stomach, and might affect the risk of some other cancers as well.”
There are several mechanisms by which alcohol can cause cancer. Anahad O’Connor, author of the NYT article, explains them as such: “Experts say that all types of alcoholic beverages can increase cancer risk because they all contain ethanol, which can cause DNA damage, oxidative stress and cell proliferation. Ethanol is metabolized by the body into another carcinogen, acetaldehyde, and it can influence breast cancer risk by elevating estrogen levels.”
Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of cancer. A recent large study published in Cancer Epidemiology found that it is responsible for 1 in 8 cases of breast cancer in women and 1 in 10 cases of colorectal and liver cancer. The study found that in America, alcohol causes 75,000 new cases of—and 19,000 deaths from—cancer each year.
Making Americans Aware of the Risks of Alcohol
Despite a strong consensus among researchers, doctors, and other experts about the association between alcohol and cancer, the majority of Americans are not aware of this link. A 2017 study conducted by ASCO found that fewer than a third realized alcohol could cause the disease.
For the most recent Dietary Guidelines, a panel of scientists called for the federal government to lower the daily recommendation to one drink for every gender. The alcohol industry pushed back on this, so it was not included.
However, the guidelines do include mention of cancer and other health risks posed by alcohol. They say that drinking can “increase the overall risk of death from various causes, such as from several types of cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease.”
They go on to say that for certain types of cancer, even low levels of alcohol increase your risk. The American Cancer Society’s new guidelines—released last year—were perhaps even more frank, saying, “There is no safe level of [alcohol] consumption.”
Though use of alcohol is not only socially acceptable, but often encouraged, it comes with a lot of risks. We’ve listed some additional health risks of alcohol use here, and its effect on depression and anxiety here. That is not accounting for emergencies like alcohol poisoning, drunk driving accidents, and more.
Despite that, alcohol is glamorized. A culture around drinking—where “wine moms” are a thing and jokes about using alcohol to cope proliferate—normalizes addictive behaviors. Like what happened with cigarettes, the fact that experts are urging the use of warning labels is an important step towards shifting the culture around alcohol.
If you are struggling with alcohol use or a mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a wonderful life without alcohol or drugs. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.