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A Lesser Known Danger of Alcohol: Cancer

Most people know about the negative effects of alcohol. In the short term, it impairs your judgment, self-control, coordination, speech, and memory, which can lead to problems ranging from minor embarrassment to fatal car crashes. In the long term, alcohol can cause liver disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, heart failure, and brain damage. There’s one major health problem that people don’t often associate with alcohol: cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol has been linked to cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. It may also increase your chances of pancreas and stomach cancer. The more you drink, the more you increase your risk of developing these kinds of cancer.

What’s more, alcohol seems to help other substances give you cancer. If you smoke and drink, for example, the alcohol may damage the cells of your mouth, exposing them to carcinogens from tobacco. Once the damage is done, alcohol slows the healing.

There are many mechanisms through which alcohol can cause cancer. A recent study suggests most of the damage is caused by acetaldehyde, an intermediate product of alcohol metabolism. Acetaldehyde damages both DNA and stem cells. That means it both impairs a the tissue’s ability to heal, and makes it more likely new cells will mutate into cancerous cells. This happens everywhere alcohol is metabolized, which is mostly in the liver, the rectum. and colon. While the liver metabolizes alcohol directly, the colon and rectum contain bacteria that turn alcohol into acetaldehyde.

Alcohol may cause cancer in more circuitous ways as well. For example, it increases risk of breast cancer even though breast tissue plays no role in consuming or metabolizing alcohol. The increased risk is probably due to a combination of hormone imbalance and nutritional deficiency. Alcohol raises estrogen levels, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol also impairs the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract, leading to several nutritional deficiencies, including folate. Low folate has been linked to breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

Increased risk of cancer is just one more reason to quit drinking. It is of particular concern if you have other risk factors, including smoking or family history. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.