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Drinking Alcohol and Beer During Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Drinking and trying to survive cancer don’t naturally seem to go hand in hand, but there may be reasons to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, even while you’re undergoing treatment. The most important consideration is your health and the success of your treatment, so if your mesothelioma doctors tell you not to drink alcohol at all, heed that advice and abstain.

If you are given the go-ahead to have an occasional drink, you may benefit from some of the health benefits, like cardiovascular health and stress relief. You also need to be careful about hydration. Alcohol and cancer treatments can both be dehydrating, so drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic fluids, whether you drink alcohol or not.

Always Follow Your Medical Team’s Recommendation

When deciding if you can enjoy a beer or two during treatment for mesothelioma or other types of cancer, the most important factor is what your medical team recommends. There are many factors to consider, such as the type of treatment, the exact drugs being used if you are going through chemotherapy, your overall health, and other factors that your doctor may know about that you do not. The best thing you can do is talk to your doctor and find out if you should abstain completely, or if you can drink, what your limits should be.

Alcohol and Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment that many mesothelioma and cancer patients face. It is one of the most effective types of cancer therapy, especially in combination with other treatments. However, it can have some terrible side effects. This is because the drugs used in chemotherapy target and kill all fast growing cells they can find in the body, cancerous and healthy. Some of these side effects make the idea and practice of drinking difficult to impossible.

One example is mouth sores. Many people experience painful mouth sores because of chemotherapy and these not only make eating and drinking hurt, they may also change the flavor of foods and drinks, making them less palatable. Alcohol can irritate these sores and make the more painful. On the other hand, a small drink may actually boost your appetite and help you to eat more, which in turn can combat weight loss or malnutrition.

Another common set of chemotherapy side effects is nausea and the resulting vomiting. Drinking too much alcohol can exacerbate these symptoms. Some people experience these side effects to an extent that the idea of drinking just isn’t possible. Some of the side effects of chemotherapy can also lead to dehydration, also exacerbated by drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Survival Rate

If you are able to beat cancer and achieve remission thanks to treatment, it is important to consider all the lifestyle factors that may affect your risks of having a recurrence. One of those may be alcohol. You may also want to know if drinking during treatment will impact your overall health and chances at beating cancer. Several studies have connected drinking to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, but there have also been studies showing that drinking does not impact survival rates.

One of these studies followed 23,000 women who were part of a previous study about risk factors for breast cancer. In those women who developed cancer, drinking did not affect survival rates. In other words, drinking did not seem to hamper a woman’s chance to survive and achieve remission. Drinking after the diagnosis also did not impact survival rates. The study did show that moderate drinking in this group of women did confer protection against cardiovascular disease.

Health Benefits of Moderate Beer or Wine Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with an increased risk for certain types of cancers. Moderate drinking has also been linked with certain health benefits. This may mean that there are some good reasons to enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine, if approved by your doctor. Moderate drinking is one drink in a day for women or two for men, no more.

Any kind of alcoholic drink has been found to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, but wine and beer also have their own specific benefits. Beer, for instance, actually has important nutrients like protein, B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Beer has also been found to contain silicon, which is important for bone health and beer drinkers are less likely to develop osteoporosis. Red wine, of course is known to have significant levels of antioxidants.

Other important possible benefits of drinking in moderation or occasionally are stress relief and connection with supportive friends and family. A drink can help reduce anxiety and stress, and most people drink with others, which means more time spent socializing with loved ones. Being social is beneficial to both physical and mental health.

Staying Hydrated

Alcohol can be very dehydrating, and for cancer patients in particular, staying hydrated is important. Chemotherapy can especially increase the risk of becoming dehydrated, so it is important if drinking occasionally, to be aware of the risks and to make a point to stay hydrated. Mouth sores make it more difficult to drink fluids and vomiting and diarrhea triggered by chemotherapy can also cause the body to lose fluids and become dehydrated.

To stay hydrated, drink plenty of water. If drinking water is uncomfortable because of sores, try ice chips and popsicles to take in more fluids. Eat foods with a lot of water, like fruits or soups. It is also important to address the side effects that are making you dehydrated. Talk to your doctor to find out what you can do about the pain of mouth sores and any vomiting or diarrhea you are experiencing. If alcohol is making you feel even more dehydrated, stop drinking and talk to your doctor.

Drinking alcohol while undergoing cancer treatment or while in recovery is a personal choice and one that should be seriously informed by the advice of your doctor and specialists. Be aware of the risks and balance those against the benefits of enjoying a glass of your favorite beer or wine. Also be aware of how alcohol and cancer treatment can conspire together to make you dehydrated, and keep up your fluid intake.

Page edited by Dave Foster

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.

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