The best reason ever to cut down on drinking

Women are drawing the short straw when it comes to drinking and cancer risk, new research shows.

Having just one standard drink per day increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and other alcohol-related cancers (colorectum, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, liver and oesophagus).

However, the US study published in the British Medical Journal this month shows for men the likelihood of developing cancer increases only when they have smoked and have two standard drinks a day.

In an accompanying article, Canadian addictions and mental health specialist Dr Jürgen Rehm says more research is needed to explore the link between smoking and drinking on the risk of cancer. 

But, Dr Rehm suggests women should not exceed one standard drink a day and men should not exceed two standard drinks a day. 

“People with a family history of cancer should consider reducing their intake to below recommended limits or even abstaining altogether, given the now well-established link between moderate drinking and alcohol-related cancers,” he says. 

In New Zealand, 44% of alcohol-related deaths in women are due to cancer. For men, 23% of alcohol-attributable deaths are cancer-related, according to Professor Jennie Connor from Otago University.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of alcohol-attributable deaths in Kiwi women (both Māori and non-Māori). Increasing alcohol consumption from one to two standard drinks a day increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 10%. 

Learn more 

Research: Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies BMJ, 2015 
Editorial: Light or moderate drinking is linked to alcohol-related cancers, including breast cancer BMJ 2015