Alcohol and cancer risk

Alcohol and cancer risk

The link between drinking alcohol and cancer is well documented. There is a strong scientific consensus that alcohol can indeed cause several types of cancer [1,2].

The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks – particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time – the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. In the UK, alcohol causes 3.3% of cancer cases, which is around 11,900 cases per year [3].

Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum. The links between alcohol and cancer risk are being highlighted this month via various awareness campaigns, such as Mouth Cancer Action Month, Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Pancreatic Awareness Month. The aims are all the same: to spread the word that drinking alcohol can increase your risk of cancer.

Researchers have hypothesised multiple ways that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, including:

  • Breaking down ethanol in alcoholic drinks to acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen, which can damage both DNA and proteins
  • Generating reactive oxygen species, which can damage DNA, proteins and fats in the body through a process called oxidation
  • Impairing the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk, including vitamin A, nutrients in the vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and carotenoids
  • Increasing levels of oestrogen, a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer

In addition, it is thought that some alcoholic drinks may also contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production, such as nitrosamines, asbestos fibres, phenols and hydrocarbons.

Alcohol testing solutions

Understanding your consumption of alcohol can be the first step in helping to address your concerns and ultimately reduce your intake. Various testing methods are available, which can show an individual’s alcohol consumption over days, weeks and even years.

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of alcohol testing solutions which include blood alcohol testing, instant breath tests, nail clippings and 3- or 6-month hair analyses. Real-time results are also available with SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

For expert and confidential advice, please call AlphaBiolabs Customer Services on 0333 600 1300 or email us at


[1] IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Alcohol consumption and ethyl carbamate. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks in Humans 2010;96:3–1383.

[2] IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Personal habits and indoor combustions. Volume 100 E. A review of human carcinogens. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks in Humans 2012;100(Pt E):373–472.

[3] Brown, K. et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal of Cancer 2018.