Could Drinking in Moderation Increase Your Risk of Cancer

We are probably all familiar with the dangers of excess drinking. But moderate drinking is very socially accepted. What the judicious drinker might not realize, though, is that the habit could elevate the risk for certain types of cancer.

The risk of breast cancer, for instance, increases slightly even with modest drinking. The online journal Annals of Oncology details one meta-analysis that suggests the risk of other cancers may also increase with moderate drinking. The study comparison looked at light drinkers, defined as one drink a day, and compared their cancer risk level with that of individuals who didn’t drink at all.

Researchers discovered that the drinking group did demonstrate a slightly higher chance of four forms of cancer – oral cancer, cancer of the pharynx, esophagus cancer, and breast cancer in women. However, risk of other cancers associated with heavy drinking such as colorectal, liver, and larynx cancers were not increased by light drinking.

Nevertheless, the study has been subject to controversy for several reasons.

First, while the methodology used for the investigation was sound, the control group contained both former drinkers as well as those who had never tried alcohol. Also, information regarding duration of consumption at different drinking levels was absent. Finally, researchers failed to fully account for the impact that habits like smoking have on drinking, and they didn’t make adjustments based on geographic location or study type, which both highly impact the risk of cancer.

Because of these factors, the results of the meta-analysis have been called into question. Critics also argue that investigators only focused on the impact of light drinking with regard to cancer while dismissing the overall health benefits associated with moderation. Potential health benefits from moderate drinking include a lower risk of heart disease and longer life expectancy.

Reviewers contend that missing information makes the results of the analysis problematic when applied to individual subjects. Therefore, they conclude that the findings can only provide limited information at best regarding a potential link between alcohol and cancer.