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For many, alcohol represents leisure, happiness and celebration of special events or festivals. However, in the past few decades, there had been a growing body of evidence linking alcohol consumption and increased cancer risk. Drinking alcohol is linked to a higher risk of at least 7 types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, liver, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus cancers.

In 1988, the World Health Organization has recognized alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans.[1] About 5% of new cancer cases worldwide are directly attributable to alcohol consumption. Alcohol-attributable cancers in 2010 were estimated to be responsible for 337,400 deaths worldwide, predominantly among men.

However, there is generally low awareness of the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancers. According to a recent survey in US, fewer than one in three people realize that drinking alcohol is a cancer risk factor. People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes. With the worrying widespread ignorance, it is vital to raise the awareness of the causal link between alcohol and cancer and prompt behaviour change to reduce alcohol consumption.

 

Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Your Health?

People may get confused about the health risks associated with drinking. On one hand, certain types of alcohol have been claimed for their potential health benefits. We’ve all heard about the heart-healthy benefits of antioxidant-rich red wine. On the other hand, other research links heavy drinking to health problems such as liver damage and stroke. It sounds like a mixed message.

However, when it comes to cancer risk, the message is getting clearer and clearer that all types of alcoholic beverages increase the cancer risk. No type of alcoholic drink is better or worse than another, regardless of whether it is wine, beer or spirits. It is the alcohol itself that leads to the higher risk of cancers. Drinking and smoking together are even worse.

 

Does only heavy drinking increase the risk of cancers?

Risk of cancers increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Heavy drinking does damage your cells and can increase your chances for cancer. However, light drinkers also aren’t off the hook. Just a small glass of wine a day has been proven to increase the risk for cancers in the pharynx and oesophagus, as well as female breast cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research also found that postmenopausal breast cancer risk increases by about 11 percent for each standard drink a day. Recently, an Australian research team reported that even low-level drinking — just one or two drinks per day - can increase a man's risk of developing prostate cancer by 8 percent compared to not drinking at all.

 

Are the links between Asian flush and cancer actually real?

Going red after alcohol is not a sign of strong qi (energy flow), but rather an indication that your body is not metabolising alcohol efficiently, a phenomenon so called “Asian flush”. It is caused by a failure to break down one of the toxic by-products of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde. The build-up of acetaldehyde causes uncomfortable side effects such as a red face.

Although many people are familiar with the flush, only a few understand that Asian flush is more than just an inconvenient outlook, but also a red flag indicating higher cancer risk. In fact, it has been reported that someone with Asian flush is 6-10 times more likely to develop oesophagus cancer from drinking alcohol than someone who does not have alcohol flush.

It would be better to avoid alcohol if you have Asian flush. But if you do drink, do so in moderation.

 

What is suggested serving size for an alcoholic drink?

The Health Promotion Board suggests that men should drink no more than two standard drinks a day, and women, no more than one. A standard alcoholic drink is defined as a can (330 ml) of regular beer, half a glass (175 ml) of wine or 1 nip (35 ml) of spirit. The serving sizes for alcoholic beverages for men and women are different because women are more vulnerable than men due to slower metabolic process of alcohol. As a result, the alcohol stays in a woman’s body longer than a man’s. And the longer large amounts of alcohol stay in your body, the higher your risk for brain and organ damage, as well as cancer.

The "one or two standard drinks" limit is not an average; you can't drink 10 drinks in a single day, then nothing the rest of the week and tell yourself you're still following the guidelines.

Keep in mind that even moderate alcohol consumption isn't risk-free.

 

Bottom line

There is no level of alcohol consumption that's completely safe.

The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of cancer.

Not drinking is the safest choice.

Category: Blog