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Can Alcohol Cause Cancer?

Date Published 10.11.2016
Topic Lifestyle Insurance

Can alcohol cause cancer? l AIG Ireland

For many of us a beer or glass of wine is the ultimate way of relaxing, but how much alcohol is safe and what is the connection between alcohol and cancer?

With so much of our lives now under close scrutiny from a health perspective, surely the odd glass of wine or pint is nothing to worry about? Or are we all becoming too reliant on the demon drink? Could our health at long term risk, particularly from cancer?

It’s the end of a long stressful working day and you want to unwind, what do you do? Well if you are at home the temptation might be to pour yourself a large glass of red or white. If you are out with friends in the pub watching a match or after a game you might sink a couple of pints. But what’s the harm? We find out.

There are lots of things we do today that are thought to contribute to the onset of cancer:

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lives
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption

In this article we will concentrate on alcohol and its association with cancer. In Ireland about 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol related cancers every year, about 500 people die from them.


What is alcohol?

Alcohol is created when the natural sugars in fruit, grain or vegetables react to yeast or bacteria and go through a process called fermentation. The alcohol content of a particular drink is controlled by the amount of yeast and length of fermentation.

Alcohol is a drug and therefore the effects on the body and mind can be immediate. It can alter your mood, making you feel relaxed, happy and sociable. This has made alcohol the refuge of people who ‘want to escape’ the realities of life, seeking solace in wine, whisky, beer, gin or vodka.


cancer risk

Cancer risk

Exactly why or how alcohol increases the risk of cancer is not completely understood. It could be that the way alcohol is metabolised can make our body's cells more vulnerable to cancer. Whatever the chemistry, experts warn that certain cancers such as:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Oesophageal
  • Laryngeal
  • Pharyngeal
  • Breast
  • Bowel (specifically men)
  • Liver
  • Skin cancers

Are more common in alcohol drinkers than teetotallers. Smoking with alcohol raises the risks significantly.


Skin Cancer

As with other cancers it is not known for certain how or why alcohol raises the risks but it is thought that the ethanol in the alcohol turns into a substance called acetaldehyde which may make the skin more sensitive to UV light. Research published in the British Journal of Dermatology shows that the risk of skin cancer developing raises in direct proportion to alcohol intake. Drinking a few strong beers raise the risk of skin cancer by 55% compared to occasional or non-drinkers.


Not just a pint

Other experts state that even occasional drinkers increase their risk of developing cancer. According to the Irish Cancer Society there is no safe level of alcohol but the risk increases in proportion to the amount we drink. It is recommended that if we do choose to drink we stick to the recommended once standard drink a day. The problem with drinking at home or ordering large drinks in the pub is they can contain much more than a standard drink. A large glass of wine and a pint of beer/lager contain approximately 3 units of alcohol.

If the increased cancer risk caused by drinking alcohol was not enough, drinking too much regularly, can damage some of your internal organs like your liver (causing cirrhosis) and pancreas (pancreatitis). Together with a higher risk of a stroke, elevated blood pressure, injuries associated with being drunk and disorientated fertility complications and weight gain. Addiction to alcohol is life threatening if not treated. Thankfully there is help available if you feel you or a loved one may be drinking too much.


can alcohol cause cancer

So how much is safe?

In Ireland it is recommended that men do not drink more than two standard drinks per day. Women should only drink one standard drink per day. According to the Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol, "in addition to quantity, safe alcohol limits must also take into account frequency." Drinking alcohol daily increases the risk of illness.

The Irish Cancer Society also advise giving yourself 48 alcohol free hours a week. Whether you enjoy an occasional glass of red wine with your meal or a pint in the pub, alcohol is one of the pleasures of life but drink cautiously so you enjoy its social benefits but limit some of the health consequences caused by drinking too much!

It’s important to remember scientifically and medically it has not been proven that there is any one cause of cancer or that any one ingredient can cause cancer or prevent it. Foods are just thought to influence our chances of getting the disease.

With this in mind and to provide financial security to you if you were diagnosed with cancer and unable to work while having treatment, AIG Direct has come up with a Cancer Cover policy. Cancer Cover will give you financial peace of mind with a cash sum of €32,000 with Standard cover, or up to €64,000 with Platinum Plus cover in the case of a cancer diagnosis. Why don’t you find out more, can you afford not to?


The article was written by the MedOnline Medical Team. MedOnline is an interactive web/mobile clinic. The views expressed in this article are those of MedOnline and do not necessarily reflect the views of AIG Europe Limited.

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