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Alcohol and Cancer – Facts and Health Risks

There is plenty of evidence suggesting the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. This includes the health benefits of drinking red wine. However, any benefit earned from consuming alcohol in moderation is erased by alcohol’s negative effects.

Regular alcohol consumption, especially drinking to excess, has serious negative impacts on health, one of which is an increased risk of developing mesothelioma or other cancers.

Moderate alcohol consumption during cancer treatment may be safe for some patients. However, it is a wise decision for cancer patients to avoid drinking altogether. Alcohol consumption may aggravate treatment side effects. Currently, studies are also investigating whether alcohol can increase the risk of a cancer recurrence. If you are undergoing treatment for mesothelioma or another type of cancer, discus drinking with your medical team before imbibing.

alcohol and mesothelioma cancer

Alcohol Consumption is a Risk Factor for Cancer

Many studies have confirmed that regular alcohol consumption is a risk factor for developing cancer. It is also a risk factor for developing specific types of cancer. Drinking alcohol has been linked to throat and mouth cancers, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, and pancreatic cancer. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk. According to research data, approximately 3.5 percent of cancer deaths are related to the consumption of alcohol. Some of the specific facts about drinking and cancer from research include:

  • People who drink three to four alcoholic beverages daily have a two to three times increased risk of developing a head and neck cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol is a known cause of liver cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. The risk of developing this form of cancer is greatest for people with a genetic mutation which makes it difficult to metabolize alcohol.
  • Women who consume three alcoholic drinks per day increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 1 1/2 times.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of colorectal cancer, especially in men.

Regular alcohol consumption contributes to cancer development in several ways. In cancers of the mouth and throat, the risk may be increased by the fact  alcohol irritation in cells which causesng damage to DNA. Alcohol causes scarring and inflammation in the liver, also damaging DNA. In the colon, alcohol is converted to a compound called acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen.

Other Negative Health Impacts of Drinking

There are other ways alcohol has a negative impact on health, some of which may indirectly contribute to the development of cancer. For example, alcohol causes estrogen levels in the body to rise. This hormonal increase can lead to breast cancer.

Alcohol can also lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for all types of cancer.  Regular drinking inhibits the body’s absorption of certain nutrients. This form of malnutrition can lead to many health problems, including cancer development.

Many health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption affect the body long term. One of the biggest health issues is liver damage. Chronic excessive drinking leads to inflammation and scarring, ultimately causing liver failure.  Alcohol consumption can also damage the brain and pancreas, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and raise blood pressure.

Drinking and Mental Health Risks

In addition, the physical health risks of excessive drinking can contribute to mental health problems, including alcohol dependence. Alcohol addiction is a serious disease. It is difficult to overcome and causes physical health effects, mental distress, and major impairment in everyday functioning.

Mental illness also has a strong link with alcohol consumption. The relationship between the two is complicated. Often, people with mental illness may turn to drinking as a coping mechanism. In other cases, alcohol may trigger the symptoms of mental illness. Mood disorders, like depression, are most commonly associated with regular excessive alcohol use. For people with existing mental illnesses, alcohol consumption can worsen symptoms.

Drinking During and after Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatments often take a serious toll on both the body and mind. Because of this toll, it is best to avoid regular or heavy drinking, or to avoid alcohol altogether.  One specific reason to avoid drinking during cancer treatment it the possible interaction alcohol can have with certain chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy also causes troublesome side effects, like nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, and pain. Alcohol can make these side effects worse.

Being a cancer survivor actually puts you at greater risk for a recurrence or developing another type of cancer. Because of this increased risk, it is important to limit alcohol intake if you are a cancer survivor. The more risk factors you can eliminate, the better your odds of remaining cancer free.

Drinking alcohol is not always bad. However, it is always a good idea to limit consumption. The American Cancer Society recommends women have no more than one drink per day. Men should consume no more than two. However, this is a daily recommendation and you shouldn’t save up all your drinks for one night on the town. Excessive drinking is very harmful. If you are going through cancer treatment, make sure your medical team gives you the green light before you indulge. And even if they do, it is still smart to limit the amount you consume.  The healthier you can stay during and after treatment, the better you will be able to fight and get well again.

Page edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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