Alcohol & cancer risk

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) released its latest report detailing the risk of diet, nutrition and physical activity on developing breast cancer.  Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women worldwide. It is the fifth most common cause of death in women, though survival rates are improving. The report released in May 2017 was a systematic review, which means all the latest research was reviewed to determine its evidence-based guidelines.

Many of the news reports focused on drinking one glass of wine a day increasing the risk of developing cancer.  However it can be difficult to know the accurate information.  It is worth noting despite news reports focusing on alcohol, the report provided a wealth of recommendations relating to breast cancer risk summarised in another blog post (Diet, Nutrition, Exerxise & Breast Cancer).

The WCRF report found that even one small alcoholic drink a day can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.  This is because alcohol is converted into a toxin in the body called acetaldehyde, which even in small amounts can build up and cause cell damage and as a result increase the risk of developing cancer.  However it is not only breast cancer the WCRF has linked strong evidence of alcohol relating to cancer.  Others include; increased risk of developing bowel, liver, mouth/throat, oesophageal and stomach cancers.

The WCRF recommendation therefore for cancer prevention is to not drink alcohol at all.  The current body of information would support this recommendation.  If people want to drink alcohol then the advice is to limit this and follow national guidelines.

National Guidelines

For those that drink regularly; do not drink more than 14 units per week.  If you do drink 14 units per week to spread this out over 3+ days and have several alcohol free days per week.

It can be difficult to know what 14 units of alcohol is.  Drink Aware have a great website depicting what a unit is over a range of alcoholic drinks and how you can reduce your consumption.  See below, taken from their website with a summary of this:


World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer. 2017. Available at: wcrf.org/breast-cancer–2017. All CUP reports are available at wcrf.org/cupreports.

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