Does alcohol really cause cancer?
A leading cause
Consuming alcohol at risky levels has been identified as the second leading cause of cancer after smoking. Regularly exceeding advised unit limits even by a small amount can result in a much greater risk of developing cancer including:
Pharyngeal cancer (upper throat)
Oesophageal cancer (food pipe)
Laryngeal cancer (voice box)
In addition, for some cancer types, alcohol is particularly harmful if you also smoke.
We know smoking and drinking each increase the risk of several cancers on their own, but combined they significantly increase the risk of cancers in the lips, mouth, larynx, pharynx, throat, oesophagus and colon.
How alcohol causes cancer
When we drink our bodies convert alcohol (ethanol) into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical.
This chemical damages our DNA and prevents our cells from repairing.
It also causes liver cells to grow faster than normal. This accelerated cell regeneration makes it more likely for gene changes that lead to cancer to take hold.
Interestingly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies both alcohol and acetaldehyde as being a cause of cancer.
While there are no known safe limits of alcohol consumption the Chief Medical Officer does have some useful guidelines to minimise the risk.