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Understanding the Link between Cancer and Alcohol

Much like smoking, alcohol consumption has a clearly documented link to cancer. Alcohol abuse, according to a WHO report, kills more than 2.5 lakh Indians annually with more than 30,000 deaths directly attributable to alcohol-related cancers.


Here’s a closer look into how alcohol can elevate your cancer risk.


How Does Alcohol Harm Your Body?




Alcohol breaks down into toxic chemical compounds that can affect your body in a host of ways. Long term intake of Alcohol can pave the way for dangerous system failures and cancerous tumours to name a few.

Here is a breakdown of some of the major effects alcohol consumption can have on your body:


  1. Produces carcinogenic compounds: Alcoholic drinks contain toxic compounds like Ethanol. Ethanol can go on to react with your body to produce dangerous compounds like Acetaldehyde that are known to be carcinogenic by nature.
  2. Damages DNA:  Alcohol can cause severe tissue inflammation and cause damage at a cellular level. This level of damage can lead to mutations in your DNA and pave the way for the growth of cancerous tumours. 
  3. Hormonal disruptions: Heavy alcohol consumption can fuel cancer growth in women by interfering with the production of hormones like Estrogen. This can flood their bodies with higher than usual amounts of Estrogen and increase their risk of developing cancers of the breast, ovaries and uterus.
  4. Impairs Nutrient Absorption: People who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol tend to have deficiencies in a host of essential nutrients. This is because Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb important vitamins like Vit A, B, C, D and E as well as other essential nutrients like folates and carotenoids. 
  5. Weight Gain: Alcohol contains a lot of empty calories, this in conjunction with all the associated junk food that is usually consumed during a drinking binge can end up adding a lot of unnecessary calories to your daily intake.




Organ-based Cancers and Alcohol


People who consume alcohol can broadly be categorised into two categories - Heavy and Light drinkers. People in the Heavy drinking category consume two to three alcoholic drinks in a day while Light drinkers consume the same amounts over the course of a single week. Suffice to say one’s cancer risk is directly proportional to his or her consumption volume.

Heavy drinkers of Alcohol risk have a high risk of getting cancers of the Liver, Mouth and Throat, Breasts, Colon, Esophagus (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) and Rectum. The most dangerous of the lot being Liver and Mouth and throat, respectively.

This happens because Alcohol can put a serious load on your liver’s toxin filtration capabilities as well as cause scar tissue damage in the long run. Not just cancer - Alcoholics can also suffer from diseases like Liver Cirrhosis and Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease due to their excess consumption.

Is there a Safe Amount of Alcohol you can Drink?

There is no “safe amount” of alcohol one can consume without incurring some side effects. It is safe to assume that people in the heavy drinking categories (2-3 drinks a day) face the highest risk of getting seriously ill.

As a heavy drinker, you can begin your journey towards Alcohol abstinence by cutting down your consumption to 1 drink a day (for women) and 2 for men. A single drink in this example works out to a pint of beer (350 ml) or 150 ml of wine. You can then move on to drinking on alternate days and gradually move towards the Light Drinker levels.


Medanta Medical Team
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