In the past few weeks, there have been a number of articles written in periodicals around the globe that finally exposed the link between alcohol and at least 7 forms of cancer. The coverage that this discovery is getting is based on a research study recently published in the science journal Addiction titled “Addiction consumption as a cause of cancer.” These findings are not new though and studies going back as far as 2005 are cited on the National Cancer Institute’s web page for Alcohol and Cancer Risk.
This poses the question why has it taken so long for the media to pick this story up if as far back as 10 years ago the risk that alcohol posed was known? I don’t know the answer to this for certain, but these findings receiving coverage may have something to do with the fact that addiction in this country is currently a hot topic of conversation. Perhaps this is something that should be included in the educational aspect of any inpatient treatment center.
Speculation aside, though, let’s take a look at the findings and see exactly why alcohol can cause cancer and which forms of cancer it is causing.
How Does Alcohol Cause Cancer?
In 2014 The National Toxicology Program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that alcoholic beverages were human carcinogens. A carcinogen is a substance that is capable of causing cancer in living tissue. Their report and the supporting research found that the more that a person drank, or the more regularly that a person drank over time, the more likely they would be to develop certain types of cancer. The research even shows that an estimated 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States were related to alcohol.
The carcinogens that they discovered in alcohol are said to be introduced during the fermentation process and they are nitrosamines, asbestos fibers, phenols, and hydrocarbons. All of which are known to cause cancer.
Besides causing cancer because of the carcinogens in alcohol, alcohol is also known to increase the risk of developing cancer. This is due to a number of factors, one of which is because of what alcohol is metabolized into in the body. When alcohol is broken down in the body it is turned into acetaldehyde which is actually a toxic chemical to humans. Acetaldehyde is known to damage DNA and proteins, both of which can result in cancer forming.
Alcohol also generates chemically reactive molecules that contain oxygen and similar to acetaldehyde they damage DNA and proteins. Besides this alcohol is known to decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients that are associated with cancer risk and increases the estrogen levels in the blood, which is linked to breast cancer.
Types Of Cancer Linked To Alcohol Use
There are currently seven known cancers that are linked to alcohol use. They are:
One of the ways that alcohol consumption increases the risk for these cancers is because it acts as a solvent that allows harmful chemicals to get into the body’s cells. Since the mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus are the entryway into the body they are more likely to have harmful chemicals exposed to them then over parts of the body. If someone is smoking while drinking their risk is increased dramatically because the carcinogens from the cigarettes get into the system quicker. Alcohol also may affect the body’s ability to repair these damaged cells, which in turn can cause cancer.
It is no secret that long-term alcohol consumption can greatly damage the liver. Jaundice is usually what people think of when they think of the damage alcohol does to the liver, but the inflammation that prolonged alcohol abuse causes can also put a person at risk for liver cancer.
The evidence that alcohol can cause an elevated risk of colon and rectal cancer is more prevalent among men but it has been shown in women as well. The research has shown people who drink 3.5 drinks or more a day are at a much higher risk for developing these types of cancer than someone who does not.
The correlation between breast cancer and alcohol consumption has been studied for years. There have been over 100 studies looking at the association between the two and they have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer among women who consume alcohol. The studies have shown that even having a few drinks a week can increase the risk for this type of cancer. The reason for this is listed above and it is because alcohol increases the levels of estrogen in the blood, which is known to be a contributing factor in breast cancer.
Does Quitting Drinking Reduce the Risk?
Studies have to be done to see if stopping drinking reduces the risk of developing cancer down to a similar risk level of nondrinkers. The studies show that it may take years for a person who did drink to reduce their risk level down to the levels equivalent to before they started drinking. This means that just stopping drinking does not mean an instant reduction in risk.
All of the studies done on alcohol and cancer have shown that the more a person drinks, the greater they are at risk of developing some form of cancer. So if you are a heavy drinker and you are thinking about stopping, this news will hopefully give you the extra motivation to finally make that decision.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing. You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram