It has been established that alcohol is one of the direct causes of cancers in the world today. Unfortunately, majority of the people in the world today, even among the educated ones, are not aware of this.   

In many societies around the world, especially in Africa, if a person dies of cancer, people have superstitious belief that it is the handiwork of someone from the village who doesn’t want the progress of the victim. 

Alcohol has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decades ago. This is the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco.

Many recent scientific researches have confirmed alcohol as a direct cause of cancer. One of them is the study led by Oxford Population Health which confirms that alcohol directly causes cancer. A new study by American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention also recommends that it is best not to drink alcohol. 

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer. These include mouth, oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum, bowel and female breast cancer.

“The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, found that alcohol accounts for a “considerable proportion” of cancer diagnoses and deaths in all US states. From 2013 to 2016, drinking alcohol was tied to more than 75,000 new diagnoses of cancer and almost 19,000 deaths from cancer each year.” – American Cancer Society. 

How alcohol causes cancer: The ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Acetaldehyde is a toxic compound. This compound damages DNA and stops our cells from repairing the damage. This facilitates the growth of cancerous cells. In addition to this, alcohol also influences hormone levels, which can modify how cells grow and divide. It also causes direct tissue damage, thereby, increasing the absorption of other carcinogens.

In Australia for instance, “Alcohol consumption causes nearly 3,500 people to develop cancer (approximately 3% of people newly diagnosed with cancer) and more than 2000 people to die from cancer in Australia each year.” – Cancer Council Victoria.

According to WHO, “no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.” “The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed. However, latest available data indicate that half of all alcohol-attributable cancers in the WHO European Region are caused by “light” and “moderate” alcohol consumption – less than 1.5 litres of wine or less than 3.5 litres of beer or less than 450 millilitres of spirits per week.”

“This drinking pattern is responsible for the majority of alcohol-attributable breast cancers in women, with the highest burden observed in countries of the European Union (EU). In the EU, cancer is the leading cause of death – with a steadily increasing incidence rate – and the majority of all alcohol-attributable deaths are due to different types of cancers.” – WHO

It has been advised at the WHO level that cancer-related health information messages should be placed on the labels of alcoholic beverages, following the example of tobacco products. Some decades ago, the statement “Smoking is dangerous to your health.” comes with the adverts of tobacco products. Now, the statement says, “Smokers are liable to die young.” With this, smokers are already aware of the risks associated with smoking.

So, the health professionals who are already aware of the carcinogenic nature of alcohol are saying similar statement should come with the adverts of alcoholic drinks so that people would be aware of the risks associated with drinking.

“Although it is well established that alcohol can cause cancer, this fact is still not widely known to the public in most countries. We need cancer-related health information messages on labels of alcoholic beverages, following the example of tobacco products; we need empowered and trained health professionals who would feel comfortable to inform their patients about alcohol and cancer risk; and we need overall wide awareness of this topic in countries and communities,” adds Dr Ferreira-Bores. – WHO

If you didn’t know before now, you know now. Spread the awareness. Alcohol is one of the direct causes of cancers. Stay safe. 


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