Recommendation 6 Background

The panel of the AICR/WCRF reached the following conclusions: The evidence that alcohol increases the risk of mouth and pharyngeal, laryngeal and esophageal cancers is convincing; the risk is greatly increased if drinkers also smoke. The evidence that alcohol increases the risk of primary liver cancer, probably by way of alcoholic cirrhosis, is convincing. Alcohol probably increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and probably also of breast cancer, even at very low levels of consumption. In general, risk is a function of the amount of alcohol consumed.

Alcohol and Cancer

Evidence No relationship Increases risk
Convincing Bladder Mouth & pharynx



Liver (by way of alcoholic cirrhosis)

Probable Stomach


Colon, rectum


Possible Prostate



Adapted from Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, 1997.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer identifies alcoholic drinks in general as carcinogenic. Three percent of cancer deaths in the US are attributed to alcohol. A 1996 report by the American Cancer Society noted that cancer risk rises at levels of intake as low as two drinks a day, and that the risk is increased by smoking. Women at risk for breast cancer are encouraged to abstain from alcohol. The evidence against alcohol use comes from population studies. But also in the lab, cocarcinogenic activity in rats livers has been shown. The damage may be that alcohol makes cells permeable to other carcinogens or that alcohol changes carcinogen metabolism for the worse. It is also thought that the damage may come from alcohol inducing nutritional deficiencies as in the case of folate or from altered liver function or, finally, from changes in estrogen levels.

See Recommendation 6 "How to" for practical advice.


EXTOXNET FAQS Diet and Cancer Homepage

Prepared 1998 by Bernadene Magnuson, Ph.D.
University of Idaho, Dept. of Food Science and Toxicology - EXTOXNET FAQ Team.