Ask the Expert: Alcohol

The Physicians Committee
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Ask the Expert: Alcohol

Q: How much alcohol is safe to consume when it comes to cancer prevention and survival?

A: A 2006 review of alcohol consumption and cancer risk showed an especially strong relationship for liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. Possible mechanisms by which alcohol may exert its cancer-causing effects include the toxic effect of alcohol metabolites, its ability to transport tobacco carcinogens, the production of free radicals, and disruption of folic acid’s protective mechanisms.

In addition, alcohol consumption may lead to nutritional deficiencies, affecting the absorption of cancer-fighting nutrients. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known carcinogens, have also been found in alcoholic beverages. Although we often hear of the supposed benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, even one drink per day increases cancer risk.

Boffetta P, Hashibe M. Alcohol and cancer. Lancet Oncol. 2006; 72:149-156.

Smith-Warner SA, Spiegelman D, Yaun SS, et al. Alcohol and breast cancer in women: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. JAMA. 1998;279(7):535-540.