Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. In 2015, an Australian study estimated 3,208 cancers (2.8 per cent of all cancers) diagnosed in 2010 could be attributed to alcohol consumption. The risk of some of these cancers is even higher in smokers who consume alcohol. Cancer risk increases from the first alcoholic drink you have.
It's not just heavy drinking—even small amounts of alcohol will increase your risk. The more you drink and the longer you have been drinking for, the greater the risk. Your risk of cancer is the same for all types of alcohol including beer, wine and spirits and there's no evidence that alcohol helps protect you from any type of cancer.
To reduce your risk of cancer, you should limit your intake of alcohol—or better still, avoid it all together. If you choose to drink, we recommend you follow the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines and limit your intake to two standard drinks a day.
One standard drink
One standard drink is defined as containing 10 grams of alcohol; however, the number of standard drinks in a serving of alcohol varies between type, size, brand, and whether your drink comes in a bottle or poured.
In Australia, all bottles, cans and casks of alcohol packaged for sale are required by law to state on the label the approximate number of standard drinks contained. However, if you are buying or pouring a drink in a glass, a standard drink can be harder to determine. Be careful of the size of the glass that the alcohol is served in and don’t assume that your glass holds one standard drink.
For example, when a waiter pours an average glass of wine, they are pouring 150ml which is 1.5 standard drinks.
The following are all examples of one standard drink:
• 220-250ml alcopop/alcoholic soda (⅔ bottle)
• 100ml wine (1 bottle = 7 standard drinks)
• 60ml (2 nips) of sherry
• 30ml (1 nip) of spirits
• 425ml (1 South Australian ‘pint’) of light beer
• 285ml (1 South Australian ‘schooner’) of full-strength/regular beer or cider
What should I do if I choose to drink?
If you choose to drink:
• have no more than two standard drinks per day
• have at least two alcohol free days every week
• avoid binge drinking. Do not 'save' your drinks using alcohol free days, only to consume them in one session.
• choose low-alcohol or no-alcohol beer or wine
• order beer and cider in a smaller glass, for example a South Australian ‘butcher’ or ‘schooner’ rather than a pint
• alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones, such as sparkling water garnished with lemon or lime, or a soda, lime and bitters
• dilute alcoholic drinks, for example try a mimosa (sparkling wine and ‘no added sugar’ juice) or white wine and mineral water
• delay the uptake of drinking amongst teenagers for as long as possible
• avoid ordering cocktails, which can contain up to three standard drinks
• eat some food when you drink. Think of alcohol as something you enjoy in moderation alongside food, rather than on its own.
• offer to be the designated driver so you drink less, but make sure you stay under .05
Other health problems and alcohol
Heavy use of alcohol is linked to many health problems, such as cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, alcohol dependence, stroke, suicide, injury and car accidents.
Even at low intake, alcohol contains a lot of energy (kilojoules or calories) so it can easily contribute to weight gain. Being overweight or obese also increases your cancer risk.
Smoking and alcohol
It has been known for a long time that smoking is harmful to health. The combined effects of smoking and alcohol greatly increase the risk of cancer—more so than from either of these factors alone. Up to 75 per cent of cancers of the upper airway and digestive tract can be related to the combined effects of drinking alcohol and smoking.
If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
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