Alcohol and cancer





Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing some cancers, particularly cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and breast. Oral cancers are six times more common in alcohol drinkers than in non-drinkers.

It is not just heavy drinking that increases cancer risk. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of cancer, and the more you drink, the greater the risk. However the evidence suggests that high levels of consumption (more than 4 standard drinks per day) increases risk of stomach cancer.

How much should I drink?
Cancer Council recommends that people limit their alcohol consumption. Those who do not drink should not take up drinking alcohol.

For people who do drink alcohol, the recommended amounts are:

  • An average of no more than 2 standard drinks a day
  • To avoid binge drinking (more than 4 standard drinks in one session)

What is a standard drink?
One standard drink contains 10g of alcohol and equals:

  • 100mL of wine
  • 30mL (one nip) of spirits
  • 60mL (two nips) of sherry
  • 285mL (one middy) of normal strength beer
  • 450mL (one schooner) of low alcohol (light) beer
  • 220-250mL ready to drink alcoholic sodas

Some cocktails contain more than three standard drinks!

Click here for more standard drink information.

But isn’t alcohol good for my heart?
The evidence suggesting alcohol in moderation is good for protecting against heart disease is not as strong as was once thought. The Heart Foundation does not recommend alcohol consumption for the treatment or prevention of heart disease. There are many positive things that you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease, such as healthy eating, regular physical activity and not smoking. These measures can also reduce your risk of cancer.

What about different types of alcohol – beer, wine or spirits?
The type of alcohol you drink doesn’t appear to make any difference. Beer, wine and spirits all increase the risk of cancer.

Can I drink more on social occasions?

Drinking large amounts of alcohol at once (binge drinking) is not recommended. For people who drink alcohol, the recommendations are an average of no more than two standard drinks a day.

Smoking and alcohol
It has been known for a long time that smoking is harmful to health. The combined effect of smoking and drinking alcohol greatly exceed the risk from either one of these factors alone.

Is alcohol fattening?

Being overweight is also a risk for developing many types of cancers, including bowel, kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, oesophagus, endometrium (lining of the womb), ovary, breast (after menopause) and prostate (advanced).

Alcoholic drinks represent ’empty kilojoules’ – that is, alcoholic drinks are high in energy (kilojoules) but low in nutritional value, especially when added to sugary mixer drinks. If you drink alcohol in addition to your normal dietary intake without reducing the kilojoules you eat, you may gain weight.

When you drink alcohol you often become less aware of the food you are eating and can easily overeat. Combining fatty foods with alcohol is the worst combination of all for weight gain, so avoid high fat snacks such as chips while drinking. Try low fat crackers or breadsticks instead.

Tips for drinking less

  • Switch to low alcohol (light) beer
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soft drinks
  • Order only half nips of spirits
  • Use water to quench thirst and sip alcoholic drinks slowly
  • Don’t fill wine glasses to the top
  • Wait until your wine glass is empty before topping it up to help keep count of your drinks
  • Have a few alcohol-free days during the week, especially if you are a regular drinker
  • Offer to be the designated driver
  • Socialise with friends in places such as cafes rather than pubs and clubs where binge drinking is less likely and better food choices are available.

See the Alcohol and Cancer Position Statement for more information.

Download the Drink less alcohol- Reduce your cancer risk handout here.