Alcohol and cancer
Alcohol use 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.
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 alcohol use (more than 4 standard drinks per day) increases risk of stomach cancer.
The type of alcohol you drink – wine, beer or spirits – doesn’t make any difference to cancer risk. The risk of cancer increases with every alcoholic drink you have.
How much should I drink?
Cancer Council recommends people drink less alcohol to reduce their risk of cancer. Those who do not drink should not take up drinking alcohol.
For people who do drink alcohol, they should follow the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, and have no more than 2 standard drinks a day to reduce lifetime risk of harm.
Have some alcohol-free days each week.
If you are planning a pregnancy, pregnant and/or breastfeeding, or are under 18 years of age, it is safest not to drink alcohol.
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 fortified wine
- 285mL (one middy) of normal strength beer
- 450mL (one schooner) of low alcohol (light) beer
- 220-250mL ready to drink alcoholic sodas
- 200mL cider
Some cocktails contain more than three standard drinks! Drinks served at home and at restaurants and bars usually contain more than one standard drink.
But isn’t alcohol good for my heart?
While some studies suggest drinking alcohol in moderation keeps your heart healthy, the evidence is not as strong as once thought.
There are other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, such as eating well, exercising regularly and not smoking. These habits also reduce your risk of cancer.
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 exceeds the risk from either one of these factors alone.
Alcohol and weight
Being above a healthy weight is also a risk for developing many types of cancers.
Alcoholic drinks represent ’empty kilojoules’ – that is, they 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.
Tips for drinking less
- Have some alcohol-free days each week
- Choose a non-alcoholic drink, such as sparkling water with fresh fruit
- Drink water to quench thirst
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water
- Set yourself a limit and stop once you’ve reached it
- Switch to lower alcohol varieties or dilute alcoholic drinks with soda or mineral water.
- Eat while you drink to slow your drinking pace.
- Avoid salty snacks that make you thirsty.
- Catch up with friends for a coffee rather than an alcoholic drink.
- Meet friends to play games or sports or go walking rather than going to the club, pub or bar.
See the Alcohol and Cancer Position Statement for more information.
Download the Drink less alcohol- Reduce your cancer risk handout here.
Cancer Council is a strong advocate for evidence-based action to reshape social attitudes, and to reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality caused by alcohol use. See our latest submission and reports.