Strong link between alcohol and cancer found

Strong link between alcohol and cancer found

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In Ireland we often hear about the link between alcohol and cancer, where roughly 900 new cancers and 500 cancer deaths are attributed to alcohol every year.(1) A new review of existing research appears to confirm this link, finding strong evidence of a direct, harmful effect of drinking, but scientists are unsure why.

Professor Jennie Connor, of the Preventive and Social Medicine department at Otago University in New Zealand said that there is now enough credible evidence to say conclusively that drinking is a direct cause of the disease. An abstract of the report can be found here.

Alcohol is estimated to have caused about half a million deaths from cancer in 2012, 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide. According to the Irish Cancer Society, alcohol is a contributing factor to seven different types of cancer – mouth and throat, larynx (voicebox), oesophagus (foodpipe), breast, liver, colon and bowel.(2) While people who drink heavily are at the highest risk, the study stresses that even people who drink low levels of alcohol are at risk.

Professor Connor notes that people should not be misled by the supposed health benefits of alcohol which are commonly reported in the media, stating that these are “seen increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers”.

So what can you do to reduce your cancer risk?

Don’t exceed the guidelines

To reduce your risk of developing cancer, and other long-term serious health conditions, you should not exceed the low-risk guidelines for alcohol consumption:

  • 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for women, with at least two alcohol-free days
  • 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for men, with at least two alcohol-free days

Common examples of a standard drink are a half pint of beer; small glass of wine; pub measure of spirits.

Make small changes to how you drink

A 2015 Healthy Ireland report stated that 14% of drinkers feel they should cut down on their drinking.(3) Small changes to the way you consume alcohol and how much you drink can make a big difference to your health and well-being now and in the future:

  • If you usually drink pints of beer or cider, why not opt for a bottle or half pint instead?
  • When you’re drinking wine, always finish one glass before pouring another. Topping up your glass can make it hard to track how much you are drinking.
  • Alcohol dehydrates the body. Alternating each drink with water will keep you hydrated.
  • Low alcohol wine and beer are now more widely available. Try one out as an alternative to your usual full strength drink.

Here are some more quick and easy ways to drink less alcohol.

Be aware of the benefits

There are so many different benefits to drinking less alcohol. It is vital to be aware that many serious alcohol-related health risks don’t appear until later in life so how you drink now, can have a major impact on your health later in life. These benefits include improved mental health, having more energy and saving money.

Find out more about the benefits of reducing how much alcohol you consume.


1 Laffoy M, McCarthy T, Mullen L, Byrne D, Martin J (2013) Cancer incidence and mortality due to alcohol: an analysis of 10-year data


3 Healthy Ireland Survey 2015, Ipsos MRBI. Commissioned by the Department of Health.