Linking Cancer and Drinking: A Mixed Review

Alcohol consumption and cancer risks studied

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Drinking one or two glasses of wine a day actually has some health benefits. A new study looked at the impact of overall drinking habits on cancer risks and mortality.

A recent paper from National Institutes of Health in the United States reports that light to moderate drinking does not increase cancer risks. In fact, light drinking is linked with significantly lower risks.

"Just two glasses of wine is fine."

The report's findings are based on the National Health Interview Survey in the US, which assessed more than 300,000 individuals, 8,000 of whom died from cancer.

Here's what the study found:

  • Light to moderate drinking did not affect risks of specific cancers - colorectal, lung, breast or prostate.
  • When the quantity increased from one to three or more drinks on drinking days, overall cancer risks jumped by 22 percent.
  • Moderate drinking had no effect; only heavy drinking was linked to all-site cancer risks.
  • Heavier drinkers had greater risk of lung cancer, while lighter drinkers had less lung cancer.
  • Total alcohol consumption had no effect on breast, colorectal or prostate cancer.
  • Increased cancer risks from more frequent drinking was seen in women, but not in men.
  • This analysis saw no clear association between the amount of alcohol consumed and an increased risk of colorectal, prostate and breast cancers.
  • There seems to be a great risk of cancer death from more frequent drinking, although the trends were not statistically significant.
  • The study found that heavier drinking (3+ drinks per occasion) was seen with other health problems including certain cancers.

The authors conclude that alcohol consumption as a cancer risk factor should not been considered alone - rather in conjunction with other lifestyle habits, especially smoking for lung cancer.

Both frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption must be assessed when examining links between alcohol and cancer. Studies regarding the effects of specific beverages also need to be conducted.

This report appeared in the October issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2011
Last Updated:
October 24, 2011