Want To Prevent Cancer? ‘It Is Best Not to Drink Alcohol,’ Says American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has tightened its recommendation regarding having a drink of alcohol: don’t do it.

“It is best not to drink alcohol,” ACS recommends in its latest cancer prevention guidelines.

As noted in previous recommendations, the guidelines state that for those who do choose to consume alcohol, women should consume no more than one drink per day, and men, two drinks. However, the latest addition strengthens its stance on reduced alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol consumption is the third major modifiable cancer risk factor after tobacco use and excess body weight,” according to the recommendations. “A standard drink of alcohol is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80‐proof distilled spirits, which contain approximately 14 grams of ethanol, the primary form of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.”

In particular, studies have linked alcohol consumption to at least seven types of cancer, including cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, female breast cancers, and stomach cancer. A 2016 survey found that 50.7% of the population aged ≥12 years consumed alcohol during the previous 30 days. About a quarter (24.2%) of the population were classified as binge drinkers, reporting the consumption of at least five alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the previous 30 days; 6% were heavy alcohol drinkers, drinking at least five alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least five days during the previous 30 days. Hispanic, African American, Asian, and Native American men and women are more likely to be abstinent than white men and women. Among current drinkers, the highest heavy weekly drinking is observed among Native Americans, and Hispanic men have the highest prevalence of heavy daily drinking.

Overall, in 2014, alcohol consumption was responsible for 5.6% of all incident cancer cases and 4% of all cancer deaths among U.S. men and women. With regard to specific cancers, about 40.9% of oral cavity/pharynx cancers, 23.2% of larynx cancers, 21.6% of liver cancers, 21% of esophageal cancers, and 12.8% of colorectal cancers in the same year were attributable to alcohol; 16.4% of breast cancers among women were attributable to alcohol.

Community Strategies to Not Drink Alcohol

ACS provides ways to help members of the community reduce or eliminate their alcohol consumption. One of these strategies is decreasing access by:

  • regulating the density of alcohol retail outlets through licensing or zoning processes
  • maintaining limits on the days that alcohol can legally be sold in retail outlets and on the hours that alcohol can legally be sold where it is consumed on premise
  • enhancing the enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors, including increasing compliance checks at alcohol retailers (such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores)
  • restricting or prohibiting promotions of alcoholic beverages in connection with sponsorships and activities that target youth

US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations also provide clinical strategies to reduce alcohol consumption: “Recommendations regarding reducing alcohol consumption include alcohol screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care settings to identify those individuals, including pregnant women, whose alcohol consumption does not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence but places them at higher risk of alcohol‐related harms,” ACS shares.

To read the full guidelines, click here.