Preventing Cancer by Reducing Excessive Alcohol Use
More than half of adults in the United States drink alcohol.1 Alcohol use increases the risk of cancers of the female breast, liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.2,3,4 There are evidence-based community strategies5 and clinical strategies6 that work to reduce excessive alcohol use.
Cancer Risks Linked with Alcohol Use
Excessive alcohol use is associated with many health and social problems. Alcohol is a carcinogen (something that can cause cancer).2,3,4 Regardless of drink type (beer, wine, or liquor), the risk of cancer increases with the number of drinks consumed, and even one drink a day increases the risk of developing cancers of the female breast, mouth, and esophagus.3 Reducing alcohol use may reduce the risk of cancer.7
Moderate alcohol use is defined as consuming up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by individuals under the age of 21 years (minimum legal drinking age), and any alcohol use by pregnant women.
Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol use that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08% or more. This is usually defined as consuming four drinks or more for women and five drinks or more for men on a single occasion, generally within about two hours.
Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight drinks or more per week for women and 15 drinks or more per week for men.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,8—
- If you choose to drink, do so in moderation—up to one drink a day for women or up to two drinks a day for men.
- Don’t drink at all if you are younger than age 21, pregnant or may be pregnant, have health problems that could be made worse by drinking, or are engaging in activities for which alcohol is dangerous (like driving).
- The Guidelines also do not recommend that you start drinking for any reason. Even moderate intake is associated with increased risks, including some cancers.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Prevalence and Trends Data, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/brfss/brfssprevalence/. Accessed September 4, 2019.
2International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans: Volume 96: Alcohol Consumption and Ethyl Carbamate.external icon Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010.
3International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans: Volume 100E: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions.external icon Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2012.
4Boffetta P, Hashibe M. Alcohol and cancer.external icon Lancet Oncology 2006;7(2):149–156.
5Community Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Community Preventive Services: Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption.external icon Accessed September 4, 2019.
6U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Unhealthy Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Adults: Screening and Behavioral Counseling Interventions.external icon November 2018.
7World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR; 2007.
8U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025. 9th Edition.external icon December 2020.