The fourth most common cancer in the UK. According to a 2011 study, more than 110 people are diagnosed with it a day. It has been estimated that about 12% of bowel cancers are linked to drinking alcohol2.
The most common cancer in the UK. According to a 2011 study, more than 130 women are diagnosed with it a day3. The risk of breast cancer is 7-12% higher per unit of alcohol per day4 – which is the equivalent of about half a pint of beer, half a standard glass or wine or a single vodka.
Although risk varies depending on a range of factors including genes, lifestyle and environment, you can reduce it by limiting how much you drink5.
One in eight women develop breast cancer, yet two thirds of women in the North East are unaware of the link with alcohol6.
More than six people a day are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, according to a 2011 study. It is estimated that one in four laryngeal cancers are caused by alcohol7. Alcohol, and the chemicals it contains, passes over the top of the larynx (the epiglottis) as you swallow.
According to a 2011 study, 12 people a day are diagnosed with liver cancer. It is estimated that almost one in ten liver cancers are caused by alcohol8. Heavy drinking can also lead to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver is repeatedly damaged and scar tissue builds up. Cirrhosis increases the risk of liver cancer.
More than 18 people a day are diagnosed with oral cancers according to a 2011 study. It is estimated that around a third of oral cancers are caused by alcohol9.
The nitrosamine chemicals in alcohol pass over your mouth, throat and top of the larynx (the epiglottis) as you swallow. Upper throat cancer forms in the tissues of the hollow tube inside the neck which starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the windpipe and oesophagus.
According to a 2011 study, 23 people a day are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in the UK. It is estimated that one in five oesophageal cancers is caused by alcohol10. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This cancer starts in the cells of the skin-like lining of the oesophagus.
You don’t need to be a heavy drinker to be at risk. Drinking a pint of beer or a standard glass of wine every day can increase the risk of a range of cancers. Many of us underestimate the risk we are taking because we underestimate how much we are really drinking. It’s easy to do, especially if you enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner or a beer while relaxing on the sofa. Use this drink checker to see how much you are really drinking.
In January 2016 the UK’s Chief Medical Officers launched new alcohol drinking guidelines following a comprehensive, independent review, the first to be carried out in 20 years. These new guidelines recommend:
• 14 units a week:
To keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level men and women should drink no more than 14 units a week. There are two units in a standard 175ml glass of wine (ABV 13%) and three units in a pint of strong lager, beer or cider (ABV 5.2%) so you might be consuming more than you think.
• Alcohol free days:
It is best to spread the 14 units over three days or more as one or two heavy drinking sessions increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and accidents and injuries.
• No alcohol during pregnancy:
Women who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, should be advised that the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.
If you’re thinking about reducing how much you drink, Dry January is the perfect opportunity to take a break and take stock. Sign up at www.dryjanuary.org.uk.
For many of us, the idea that alcohol can cause cancer is hard to accept. It’s a natural reaction. After all, low alcohol pricing, widespread availability and mass promotion has suggested alcohol is an everyday commodity. But it’s not. To demonstrate this, we’ve set out a simple guide to what happens when we drink alcohol.
Our bodies convert alcohol into the toxic chemical acetaldehyde - one of the reasons for hangovers. It can damage DNA and stop cells from repairing themselves which can cause cancer.
Some cancers are more common in people with low folate levels - a vitamin which helps cells produce new DNA correctly. Drinking alcohol can lower levels of folate.
Alcohol can cause highly reactive molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) to be produced in our cells, damaging DNA, which can cause cancer to develop.
Alcohol can increase the levels of some of our hormones, including oestrogen. Unusually high levels of oestrogen increases the risk of breast cancer.
Drinking too much alcohol damages the cells of the liver which can lead to cirrhosis, increasing the risk of developing liver cancer.
Alcohol makes it easier for the tissues of the mouth and throat to absorb the cancer causing chemicals in tobacco. This is one of the reasons why people who drink and smoke multiply the damage they do and have high risks of cancer.
The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a group one (its highest risk group) carcinogen (a substance directly involved in causing cancer) since 1988. This is the same high risk group as tobacco and asbestos.
A study published in 2011 found that alcohol is responsible for around 4% of UK cancers, about 12,800 cases per year11.
Drinking a pint of beer or a standard glass of wine every day can increase the risk of bowel cancer by 9%13.
Around one in three mouth and throat cancers are caused by alcohol14.