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Limit Alcohol to Lower Cancer Risk

Article date: December 8, 2011

If your social calendar is a little more crowded than usual this month, you may find yourself tempted by holiday party treats, including alcoholic beverages. Having one drink at a party isn’t likely to cause you much harm. But routinely having more than 1 or 2 drinks per day could raise your cancer risk.

Drinking alcohol is linked to a higher risk of mouth and throat cancers, liver cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.

Breast Cancer

Research has shown that women who have 2 to 5 alcoholic drinks daily have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who drink only 1 drink a day or not at all. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November, researchers found evidence that linked even lower levels of drinking alcohol to an increase in breast cancer risk. As little as 3 to 6 glasses of wine a week was shown to slightly increase breast cancer risk.

It’s not clear how or why alcohol increases the risk, or which women are most likely to be affected. But limiting alcohol is especially important for women who have other risk factors for breast cancer, such as breast cancer in their families.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer has been linked to the heavy use of alcohol. At least some of this may be due to the fact that heavy alcohol users tend to have low levels of folic acid in the body. Still, alcohol use should be limited to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

Liver Cancer

Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of cirrhosis, a disease in which liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. Cirrhosis is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer. In a recent study, a significant number of liver cancer cases were associated with heavy drinking.

Mouth and Throat Cancers

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing mouth and throat cancers. The risk goes up even more for people who smoke as well as drink. About 7 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.

According to some studies, the risk of these cancers in heavy drinkers and smokers may be as much as 100 times more than the risk of these cancers in people who don't smoke or drink.

Festive Drinks Can Be Alcohol-free

If you drink at all, moderation is wise for a lot of reasons. Overdoing it can lead to many serious health problems including liver damage, an inflamed pancreas, high blood pressure, psychological disorders and alcohol dependence.

Limiting your alcohol intake doesn’t mean you can’t still have a fun and festive holiday party. Try this recipe for a non-alcoholic blue cocktail from the American Cancer Society cookbook Celebrate! Healthy Entertaining for Any Occasion. Each ½ cup serving has approximately 84 calories. To add a decorative touch to your ice cubes, place an edible flower in each ice cube tray section before filling with water and freezing.

Recipe: Blue Storm

2 cups fresh orange juice

¾ cup papaya or mango nectar

1 cup pineapple juice

¼ cup blue daiquiri mix

Dash of blue vegetable coloring

Freshly grated nutmeg as garnish

Combine orange, papaya or mango, and pineapple juices in a large pitcher. Chill. Place blue daiquiri mix in a small pitcher. Add blue vegetable coloring until desired color has been achieved.

Fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour ¼ cup of orange juice mixture into each glass.

Slowly pour 1 tablespoon of blue liquid down the inside of each glass. Do not stir before serving. Garnish with nutmeg if desired.

Makes approximately 4 cups. Serves 8.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

Citations: Moderate Alcohol Consumption During Adult Life, Drinking Patterns, and Breast Cancer Risk. Published in the November 2, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 306, No. 17). First author: Wendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma Risk Factors and Disease Burden in a European Cohort: A Nested Case-Control Study. Published online October 21 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Dimitrios Trichopoulos, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health.

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