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One Drink A Day May Increase Risk For Certain Cancers

Last updated Aug. 24, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Alena Getman

Women who consumed alcohol on a daily basis had a substantially increased risk for alcohol-related cancers, particularly breast cancer, even if the women did not smoke at one point in their lives.


Individuals who love to enjoy a glass of wine at dinner every night may have to cut down on the frequency of their consumption. A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that just one drink per day may increase a woman’s risk for alcohol-related cancers.

Light to moderate drinking is defined as up to one standard drink, or 15 grams or alcohol, a day for women and up to two standard drinks daily, or 30 grams of alcohol, for men. One standard drink is the equivalent of a five-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of beer.

Researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston analyzed data from 136,000 men and women in studies that examined the participants’ behaviors and overall health for 30 years. The goal was to quantify the risk of overall cancer across various levels of alcohol consumption in men and women separately. During the study, the participants completed a questionnaire every four years discussing their nutritional and drinking habits.

The results concluded that those who drank more often experienced a greater risk of cancer. Men who smoked at some point in their lives and consumed two alcoholic beverages on a daily basis had an increased risk for alcohol-related cancers, including liver, bowel, throat, mouth, esophagus, and larynx. However, women who consumed alcohol on a daily basis had a substantially increased risk for alcohol-related cancers, particularly breast cancer, even if the women did not smoke at one point in their lives.

Current guidelines concerning to alcohol consumption suggest overall risks to health and are not just for cancer. Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D., from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada comments.

"However, even when we consider all cause mortality attributable to alcohol, drinking more than 10 g of pure alcohol per day for women or 20 g for men over a lifetime can lead to a magnitude of risk not considered acceptable for voluntary behavior in modern societies," writes Dr. Rehm.

The authors of the study do not suggest that there should be a change in the limits of alcohol consumption but advise that individuals with a family history of cancer should consider reducing their alcohol intake below the recommended limits.

Reference:

Cao, Y., Willett, W. C., Rimm, E. B., Stampfer, M. J., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2015). Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies. 

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 24, 2015
Last updated: Aug. 24, 2015