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Limit alcohol

How drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing cancer

Limit alcohol

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 two standard drinks a day.

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.

Information on one standard drink

Watch as our CEO, 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.

Shaun Micallef on alcohol and cancer | Cancer Council Australia

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.

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.

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 two standard drinks a 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.
  • eat some food when you drink.

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

Learn more about reducing your cancer risk with diet and exercise