Daily Archives: 18/10/2015

Alcohol and Cancer

A new factsheet was published by Alcohol Concern and launched earlier this year relating to alcohol and cancer.

Cancer UK cancer types







Around 4% of cancers in the UK are directly attributable to alcohol – around 12,800 individual cases every year.

  1. This makes alcohol one of the most preventable causes of cancer after smoking.
  2. Worldwide, one in five of alcohol-related deaths are caused by cancer.
  3. Just one alcoholic drink a day can increase the risk of developing cancer – and the risk increases with every drink


Alcohol was classified as a teratogen back in the late 80’s by the WHO so this is not new.  However what is new is the robustness of the evidence about alcohol and its impact on cancer risk.

And even I, as a nurse who worked on a GI (gastro-intestinal) medical and surgical ward, and so cared for many patients impacted by these types of cancers, didn’t connect the rates of cancer I was seeing with drinking:

  • Mouth and throat 30.4%
  • Voice box 24.6%
  • Oesophageal 20.6%
  • Colorectal 11.6%

I knew and expected the maxillo-facial (so top two listed above) but was stunned by the oesophageal and colorectal percentages.  It could be argued that the majority of patients I cared for were there because of booze 🙁

But it’s not really a surprise is it seeing as that is how alcohol travels through our system when we drink?  Into our mouth, down our throat and over our voice box and then down the oesophagus and into our stomach and then onto our small and large bowel (colorectal).  Poisoning our system and mutating the cell lining as it goes …….

We’ve known for a good few years (well I’ve known since I started my nurse training in 1989!) that if we want to increase the chances of us living long and healthy lives, particularly as regards cancer, then best not to smoke.  You can add to that list now best not to drink either!!

Edited to add: 9th January 2016

Statement on consumption of alcoholic beverages and risk of cancer (PDF)

We looked at a number of publications estimating how many cancers occur in the UK each year as a result of people drinking alcohol.  While there were some differences in how the analyses were carried out, using the two most appropriate studies produced useful estimates.  We found that 4-6% of all new cancers in the UK in 2013 were caused by alcohol consumption | Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC), UK

Mutagenicity of alcohol (ethanol) and its metabolite acetaldehyde

This statement details the conclusions reached by the COM with regard to the published evidence on the genotoxicity and mutagenicity of ethanol, acetaldehyde and alcoholic beverages from January 2000 to May 2014, including the modifications made to the conclusions drawn in 2000 | PHE, UK

Edited to add: 10/10/16

Alcohol the cause of 5% of new cancer cases

135,000 alcohol-related cancer deaths predicted by 2035

ALCOHOL SNAPSHOT: Alcohol-related cancers will get worse before they get better

Edited to add: 04/01/18

New study identifies key alcohol and cancer mechanism