Expert Doctors: This Is the #1 Risk Factor for Cancer—and It’s Preventable

Updated: Mar. 27, 2024

Experts are reporting that 20,000 American fatalities happen every year due to cancer related to consuming too much of this.

Isn’t anything you do to unwind after a long day or week considered healthy? A new national announcement suggests an evening stroll or yoga class is a far better choice than having a drink.

Ahead of April’s Alcohol Awareness Month observance, a message posted on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) page on X (formerly Twitter) read: “DYK [Did you know] drinking alcohol is a leading cause of cancer that can be avoided? Each year, 20,000 people die in the U.S. from alcohol-related cancer.”

This was followed by an infographic illustrating that alcohol can increase the risk of several different cancers, including those of the throat, liver, colon, and breast in women. The CDC notes that it can also increase the odds of mouth, larynx, and esophageal cancer. Other cancers, like prostate, stomach, and pancreatic, have also been tied to routine alcohol consumption.

The main issue is that any amount of alcohol is toxic, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). When it enters the bloodstream, it must be broken down into something called acetaldehyde, which is then further broken down into acetate. The acetate can then be processed into water and carbon dioxide and leave the body. The NIAAA says the acetaldehyde is a proven carcinogen, and it damages DNA the longer it remains in the bloodstream.

When You Need to Unwind: 10 Healthy Alternatives to Booze

Choosing not to drink is one of the ways you can protect yourself against an increased risk for several cancers. But, if you do drink occasionally, the NIAAA recommends you limit consumption to one serving per day for women and two for men.

Note this does not mean saving up your servings for a weekend binge. Also, this applies to all types of alcohol, from beer and red wine to high-proof whiskey and vodka. One 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine (any color), and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor all have the same amount of ethanol that the body must process. And, even at this level, experts caution that the risk for some cancers increases. Breast cancer in females, in particular, has been linked to a very low level of alcohol consumption.

Despite the popular one-to-two-drink rule, the World Health Organization (WHO) ultimately declared in January 2023 that there is no safe level of alcohol. “It doesn’t matter how much you drink—the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage. The only thing that we can say for sure is that the more you drink, the more harmful it is—or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer it is,” stated Carina Ferreira-Borges, PhD, Regional Advisor for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the WHO Regional Office for Europe. And while red wine has often been considered a healthier beverage, some experts have even considered whether it should be removed from the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet due to the potential for abuse.

If you drink, follow the one-to-two-drink rule, and be sure to discuss your consumption with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe for you. Anyone who doesn’t drink shouldn’t start.