Really – can alcohol cause cancer?
I know that it is easier to live in denial, but the subject can no longer be denied. Can alcohol cause cancer? Yes it can, and it manifests in many different strains. There has been increasing attention brought to the ways that alcohol can cause cancer. Alcohol causes cancer in many ways, and has long been associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Scientists tend to want to assign a single causal factor to any given problem. This is a logical outcome to the scientific process of eliminating all extraneous factors. When a scientific conclusion is made, it is easier to prove a single cause and effect.
Does alcohol cause cancer?
The problem is that alcohol can actually cause many different types of cancer. To make it complicated for scientists to prove the link between alcohol and increased risk of cancer is that alcohol can act in several different ways to contribute to the likelihood of developing cancer.
But there is scientific evidence that alcohol increases the risk, and here is a list of ways that can help answer the question – “Can alcohol cause cancer?”
1. Alcohol is carcinogenic
Don’t be fooled by our cultural conditioning that tells us that alcohol is an acceptable part of our daily lives. Alcohol is carcinogenic. The International Agency for Research in Cancer, or IARC for short, has labelled alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogenic substance. Group 1 is the highest level risk category for substances that cause cancer in humans. The IARC has concluded that alcohol is carcinogenic to humans, and alcohol does cause cancer.
2. Alcohol can affect hormones levels in the body
Alcohol has a direct impact on the levels of some hormones in the body, such as serotonin, melatonin and cortisol. These hormones regulate most bodily functions, such as when to sleep, when to wake, when to eat, and when to relax. If these levels of these hormones become messed up by alcohol, the bodily rhythm can be disturbed. When our stress levels are too high, or when we don’t get enough sleep, we get stressed. If stress causes us to drink too much alcohol, then we can have an increased risk of developing cancer. Alcohol can cause cancer in many insidious ways.
3. Increased risk of breast cancer
Oestrogen is the hormone that affects breast tissue, and women who drink alcohol every day have higher levels of oestrogen in the body. As we have seen, hormones act as signals throughout the body to instruct cells, muscles and tissues what to do and when to grow. High levels of oestrogen cause an abnormal amount of cellular growth, which has been associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Yet another way alcohol cause cancer.
4. What is acetaldehyde and how can it cause cancer?
One of the worse contributors to cancer is related to the way our liver deals with alcohol. When we drink alcohol, the liver converts alcohol into another chemical called acetaldehyde. According to the IARC, acetaldehyde is also classed as a Group 1 carcinogenic substance. Acetaldehyde causes damage to the DNA in the body which leads to abnormalities at a cellular level. When we drink alcohol, we unknowingly get a double dose of carcinogenic materials. Here is direct proof that alcohol cause cancer. Both alcohol and acetaldehyde have been proven to increase the risk of cancer in humans.
5. Can liver damage lead to cancer?
When we drink alcohol every day, we cause long term damage to the liver, which is a disease known as cirrhosis. You can die from this. But cirrhosis by itself does not result in cancer. So how does alcohol cause cancer of the liver?
Cirrhosis is caused by continual damage to liver cells which is replaced by scar tissue within the liver. Over time, healthy liver cells are replaced by more and more scar tissue, which causes abnormal levels of cellular growth in order to deal with the alcohol which we continue to drink. So this creates a vicious cycle whereby the liver cirrhosis gets progressively worse, and this can make it more likely that we can develop liver cancer.
6. Does alcohol combine with other drugs?
We know that smoking tobacco and other drugs can cause cancer. But does alcohol cause cancer in combination with other drugs? Scientists have found it difficult to isolate the effects of alcohol from other drugs such as tobacco, which are often consumed together. It has been proven that smoking allows more alcohol to be absorbed into the soft tissues around the mouth and throat. Thus the combination of smoking and drinking results in a higher risk of cancer causing chemicals to increase the risk development of mouth and throat cancers.
7. What about folate?
The body obtains folate from the food we eat, and folate is a necessary vitamin to help our body grow new cells and tissue properly. But when we drink alcohol every day, the folate levels in our blood are too low, which has been proven to be a risk for cancer. The problem may be caused directly by drinking too much alcohol, or that when we drink, we don’t eat enough healthy food. Either way, low folate levels associated with drinking every day, is not good for our health.
8. How else can alcohol damage DNA?
And last but not least, drinking too much alcohol can result in the production of Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS for short. ROS molecules act like the free radicals that we have been warned about. These molecules can cause damage to the DNA in the cells of our body, and when we damage DNA, we have an increased risk of the development of cancer.
Alcohol is one of the most well established causes of cancer
Yes, despite the common myths, alcohol can cause cancer. Maybe it is time to re-think some of these old myths:
I thought alcohol was good for our health?
This finding was based on a flawed scientific study, and alcohol does not have any health benefits. Certainly the risk that alcohol can cause cancer is higher than any perceived benefit of drinking alcohol.
I thought wine was good for health?
Alcohol has the same risk of increased cancer no matter how we drink it, whether beer, wine or spirits. The more alcohol we drink, the higher the risk of getting cancer.
Can I reduce the risk by cutting down on alcohol?
Yes you can certainly reduce the risk of getting cancer from alcohol by drinking less. But the problem with alcohol is that we often find that end up drinking more alcohol than we want to. Alcohol is an addictive, cancer causing chemical, and once we start drinking, it can be difficult to stop.
If you have tried to cut down on alcohol, but failed, then let us offer you help to stop drinking, and stay stopped!
Also published on Medium.