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Alcohol and Cancer Prevention

You know that drinking beer, wine or liquor could be bad for your health but did you know it could increase your risk of cancer?

Many people drink alcohol without detrimental impacts on their health. There is even evidence that small amounts of alcohol can be healthy for some people. However, there are also many risks, including cancer, associated with drinking. Heavy drinking, in particular, is bad for our bodies and our health. Globally, alcohol causes over three million deaths per year.

The rate and nature of drinking vary widely by culture and context. In Africa, where alcohol use was not historically very high, drinking rates are increasing as the alcohol industry has moved aggressively into this emerging market. As a continent, it already has the highest burden of disease and death due to alcohol. In the Caribbean, alcohol is also negatively impacting peoples’ health. Compared to the world as a whole, the rate of alcohol use in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased more quickly in recent years.


Drinking alcohol heightens the risk of many diseases and injuries apart from cancer. It can be harmful in both the long- and short-term. The chemicals in alcohol can cause damage to our bodies over time and can also cause alcohol addiction. Heavy drinking can be acutely dangerous.and being intoxicated also increases risky behavior which often results in injury.

Chances of liver disease, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, and stroke are all increased by heavy alcohol use. Alcohol also substantially increases the risk of injury and death due to traffic crashes, self-harm, and interpersonal violence. IOGT International reports that up to 80% of all gender violence is alcohol-related. Recently, alcohol use has been identified as a contributor to infectious diseases like tuberculosis and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and it also contributes to mental health issues and sleep problems

The World Health Organization has reported that globally about 6% of all deaths in a given year were due to alcohol. In Africa and the Caribbean, region a higher proportion of men use alcohol than women..and a higher proportion of men die from alcohol use than women. However, due to alcohol industry marketing and changing norms, the number of women and youth using alcohol is growing. Women in the Americas have the highest rates of alcohol use disorder─addiction to alcohol─of anywhere in the world.

Alcohol is also dangerous because it is addictive. It is more highly addictive to some people based on genetic and environmental factors. Alcohol use disorder, or a harmful addiction to alcohol, has negative long-term effects on health.

In fact, the ethanol found in all alcoholic drinks has been identified as a carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer.

Alcohol and cancer risk

Drinking alcohol has been identified as a cause of many kinds of cancer, including

  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colon and rectal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Breast cancer

Some studies have shown that heavier drinking relates to a higher risk of cancer. Others have shown that for certain cancers, even light drinking was associated with higher risk. Ethanol, the chemical in all alcohol, as well as acetaldehyde, which our bodies produce when they process alcohol, are considered carcinogens.

There are other factors that worsen the risk of cancer in people that drink alcohol. Smoking tobacco and an unhealthy diet further increase the chances of cancer in people that drink.

In the Caribbean, the highest rates of death due to alcohol-related cancers are from breast cancer and cancers of the mouth.


In general, it does not matter which product (beer, wine, or liquor) a person is drinking–all contain ethanol, the chemical that your body must break down in order to process alcohol.


Some more recent studies have shown that in some people, there can be benefits to light drinking. These include increasing good cholesterol, which can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Though many people mistakenly think red wine is special in this way, the type of alcohol does not seem to have much effect on these outcomes. These studies have generally only found positive outcomes related to light drinking (typically 1–2 drinks per day) and have shown that heavy drinking does not have any health benefits.


You may be unsure if you or a loved one –is drinking too much alcohol. It is best to discuss your alcohol consumption and overall health with your doctor. If you are afraid there may be a problem, please see resources at the bottom of this page for more information and help related to addiction and mental health.

When thinking about how much alcohol to consume the pattern of drinking over time matters, and so does the amount consumed in a given sitting. Though it may be debated exactly how much alcohol qualifies as “light” drinking versus “heavy” or “binge” drinking, research shows that drinking heavily, even if it is not done often, is bad for our health. The Healthy Caribbean Coalition defines heavy drinking as 4 or more drinks for a woman and 5 or more drinks for a man, in a given sitting.

Pregnant women and underage people should not drink alcohol. Alcohol has negative, sometimes very serious consequences on fetal development and on brain development. This can continue into young adulthood and increase a person’s risk of addiction later in life.

It’s also important to remember that there are both long-term (chronic) and immediate (acute) health issues resulting from alcohol use. Additionally, any person who drinks too much alcohol in one sitting can be at risk of acute alcohol poisoning which can be fatal. Alcohol also interacts with a variety of medications causing dangerous outcomes. You should speak with a doctor before using alcohol while taking any medication.


Alcohol Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from IOGT International website:

Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits. Retrieved December 9, 2019, from The Nutrition Source website:

Duke, A. A., Smith, K. M. Z., Oberleitner, L. M. S., Westphal, A., & McKee, S. A. (2018). Alcohol, drugs, and violence: A meta-meta-analysis. Psychology of Violence, 8(2), 238–249.

Ferreira-Borges, C., Parry, C. D. H., & Babor, T. F. (2017). Harmful Use of Alcohol: A Shadow over Sub-Saharan Africa in Need of Workable Solutions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4).

Griswold, M. G., Fullman, N., Hawley, C., Arian, N., Zimsen, S. R. M., Tymeson, H. D., … Gakidou, E. (2018). Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet, 392(10152), 1015–1035.

LoConte, N. K., Brewster, A. M., Kaur, J. S., Merrill, J. K., & Alberg, A. J. (2017). Alcohol and Cancer: A Statement of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 36(1), 83–93.

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