Alcohol and Cancer

Why am I being warned about alcohol and cancer?

  • Alcoholic beverages (when associated with alcohol abuse) and ethanol in alcoholic beverages are on the Proposition 65 list because they can cause cancer.
  • Consuming alcoholic beverages increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum.

How does alcohol impact cancer risk?

Alcohol increases cancer risk by breaking down in the body to acetaldehyde, a chemical that can cause cancer by damaging DNA. In addition, drinking alcoholic beverages can increase blood levels of estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer. Alcohol can also increase cancer risk in other ways and may hurt the body’s ability to process certain nutrients. According to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, the risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Even moderate drinking increases the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer in women. People who use both alcohol and tobacco have much greater risks of developing cancers of the mouth and throat than people who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.

What is moderate drinking?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day.

Are certain groups at greater risk?

A person’s risk of alcohol-related cancers is influenced by their genes, specifically the genes that relate to chemical reactions involved in breaking down alcohol. Some people, particularly of Chinese, Korean, or Japanese descent, may carry a gene that limits their ability to detoxify alcohol and increases their risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus.

How can I reduce my risk?

If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. If you are concerned that you may have a drinking problem, call 1-800-662-HELP (662-4357) to find out about support and treatment options. This is the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) toll-free telephone number for alcohol and drug information and treatment referral assistance.

For more information:

Proposition 65:

  • California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA)
    Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)
Posted August 2016

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