How drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing cancer
There is convincing evidence that drinking any type of alcohol (beer, wine or spirits) increases the risk of cancers of the bowel, breast, mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus (food pipe) and liver. The risk is even higher for some of these cancers in smokers who consume alcohol.
Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases your cancer risk. The more you drink, the greater the risk. If you choose to drink, we recommend you follow the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines and limit your intake to no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. Children and people under the age of 18 should not drink alcohol to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol.
Alcohol is high in energy (kilojoules or calories) and can easily contribute to weight gain - being overweight or obese is also associated with a higher cancer risk.
Alcohol and cancer risk
The type of alcohol you drink doesn't make any difference. Beer, wine and spirits all increase your risk of cancer. Even at low intake, alcohol contains a lot of energy (kilojoules or calories) so it can easily contribute to weight gain. Being overweight or obese also increases your cancer risk.
What is a standard drink?
- Light beer (2.7% alc/vol) 425 mL
- Mid strength beer (3.5% alc/vol) 375 mL
- Full strength beer (4.9% alc/vol) 285 mL
- Regular cider (4.9% alc/vol) 285 mL
- Sparkling wine (13% alc/vol) 100 mL
- Wine (13% alc/vol) 100 mL
- Fortified wine e.g. sherry, port (20% alc/vol) 60 mL
- Spirits e.g. vodka, gin, rum, whiskey (40% alc/vol) 30 mL
Watch as Sanchia Aranda AM, sits down with Shaun Micallef, award-winning comedian and creator of the AVC TV and iview documentary series On The Sauce, to discuss alcohol and cancer.
Other health problems and alcohol
Heavy use of alcohol is linked to many other health problems such as cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, alcohol dependence, stroke, suicide, injury and car accidents.
In order to prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol. When a woman is breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option for the health of their baby.
Alcohol and heart disease
In the past, researchers believed red wine might have had health benefits for heart disease, but this does not appear to be the case. Neither the Heart Foundation of Australia, nor the World Health Organization recommends consuming alcohol (including red wine) to prevent cardiovascular disease.
There are better things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease as well as cancer, such as not smoking, healthy eating, being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight. It is important to look at the risks and benefits of drinking alcohol for you personally.
Smoking and alcohol
It has been known for a long time that smoking is harmful to health. The combined effects of smoking and alcohol greatly increase the risk of cancer (more so than from either of these factors alone). Up to 75% of cancers of the upper airway and digestive tract can be related to alcohol plus smoking.
What should I do?
To reduce your risk of cancer, if you don't drink, don't start. If you choose to drink:
- limit your intake – National Health and Medical Research Council recommends no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day
- avoid binge drinking - do not ‘save’ your drinks using alcohol-free days, only to consume them in one session
- have at least two alcohol-free days every week
- choose low alcohol drinks or try spritzers (wine and soda or mineral water).
- alternate alcoholic drinks with water or fruit-based drinks
- use water to quench thirst and sip alcohol slowly
- wait until your wine glass is empty before topping up to keep count of your drinks
- eat some food when you drink but avoid salty snacks that make you thirsty so you drink more.
If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
Learn more about reducing your cancer risk with diet and exercise