Research has shown that alcohol consumption is one of a number of factors that contribute to the risk for developing certain types of cancer, including cancers of the upper digestive tract, as well as liver, breast, colorectal, and kidney cancer.
Cancer risk associated with the consumption of alcohol is related to patterns of drinking, particularly heavy drinking over extended periods of time.
Not all heavy drinkers get cancer as multiple risk factors are involved in the development of cancers including genetics and family history of cancer, age, environmental factors, and behavioural variables, as well as social determinants of health.
If you do choose to drink, it is advisable to drink at or below National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from alcohol* (‘the guidelines’) – the more you cut down, the more you reduce your risk of cancer.
Head, throat and neck cancer
When you smoke cigarettes and drink heavy amounts of alcohol, you significantly increase your risk of cancer – especially cancers of the mouth and throat.
Regularly drinking to excess may result in a fatty liver which can adversely affect your liver function. Continued heavy or excessive drinking may result in the liver becoming inflamed causing alcoholic hepatitis or permanent liver scarring (cirrhosis) and subsequent liver cancer.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women. Studies indicate a relationship between alcohol consumption and developing breast cancer. Of course, drinking alcohol does not mean you will automatically get breast cancer, but it does mean your risk of developing it will be increased. How much you drink over your lifetime is what increases the risk, therefore you should stick to Australian national government drinking guidelines.
Excessive drinking can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
For more information about the effects of alcohol on your body, check out our interactive body health tool.
*Through the evidence-based guidelines, the NHMRC provides guidance for Australians on reducing their risk of harm from drinking alcohol. The NHMRC is currently undertaking a review of the guidelines. The guidelines will be updated on this page once the review is complete.