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Drinking Alcohol and Your Cancer Risk


Updated November 08, 2010

Drinking Alcohol and Your Cancer Risk
Steve Woods
Question: Drinking Alcohol and Your Cancer Risk
I read that to prevent cancer, you should only drink a moderate amount of alcohol. How much alcohol is considered to be moderate? How many beers are considered to be too many?
Answer: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that a moderate amount of alcohol is considered to be 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Consuming more than this amount is considered to be excessive drinking and increases your risk for many diseases and conditions. With that being said, how many ounces is considered to be "one drink"?

The Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture consider one drink to be:
  • 12 fl oz regular beer
  • 5 fl oz wine
  • 1.5 fl oz 80-proof distilled spirits

Limiting yourself to a moderate amount of alcohol or less instead of indulging greatly reduces your risk of many types of cancer, as well as liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and more.

Less is Best

In this excerpt, provided by UpToDate-- an electronic resource used by many patients and their doctors looking for in-depth medical information-- you can see how alcohol can have a great effect on your cancer risk:

"There is consistent evidence that breast cancer risk is higher for women consuming moderate to high levels of alcohol (three or more drinks/day) compared with abstainers. Drinking as little as one to two drinks per day is believed to increase this risk."

"Alcohol use has been linked to several types of cancer of the head and neck and digestive (gastrointestinal) tract, even at low levels of consumption. People who drink and smoke have a greater risk than would be expected from either factor alone." However, even at low levels, drinking may increase the risk of hepatocellular cancer in people with inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) due to infection with certain viruses (ie, hepatitis C virus). People with chronic hepatitis should avoid alcohol.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Risk and Benefits of Alcohol," for additional in-depth medical information.


Mukamal, Kenneth."Risk and Benefits of Alcohol" UpToDate. November 2007. Accessed: July 2010.

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