According to a large study published in the BMJ, even light to moderate intake of alcohol – one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men – is linked to a minimally increased risk of developing some types of alcohol-related cancers. The findings were seen in both, men and women, with the latter more likely to develop breast cancer.

Study: Establishing The Link

Heavy alcohol intake has been associated with various types of cancers. However, the link between light to moderate alcohol consumption and the overall risk of cancer remains unclear. Also, the role of alcohol, independent of smoking, remains unsettled.  

To gain insight into the matter, U.S. researchers based at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston observed data from two large-scale U.S. studies – health records of 88,084 women and 47,881 men for a period of 30 years. They determined the risk of total cancer along with known alcohol-related incidences of the disease, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer and liver cancer.

Light to moderate drinking was classified as one standard drink (15g of alcohol per day) for women, and two standard drinks (30g of alcohol per day) for men. Confounding variables, such as age, BMI, diet, ethnicity, history of cancer or cancer screening and physical activity were all accounted for.

Results And Inferences: Smoking Plays Major Role

Follow-up observations revealed 19,269 cases of cancer in women and 7,571 cases in men. Overall, light to moderate alcohol consumption was found to be non-significantly associated with an increase in total cancer for both genders, regardless of a history of smoking.

The risk of alcohol-related cancers was seen to be higher in men with a smoking history only. Results for alcohol-related cancers were higher among men who indulged in light to moderate drinking, but only for those with a history of smoking. However, for non-smoking women, risk of alcohol-related cancers, especially breast cancer, increased with even one drink per day.

Further Research: Even A Single Drink A Day Can Cause Cancer

Dr Jürgen Rehm at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto stated that the study helped clarify the association between moderate drinking and cancer. Even though further research is needed to determine the link between smoking and cancer, women and men should not exceed their standard limits of drinks per day.

“Those with a family history of cancer must consider lowering their daily intake to below recommended standards, or should avoid alcohol altogether,” Dr Rehm concluded.