Alcohol is a real risk factor when it comes to developing cancer and is directly linked as a cause for 7 different types of this deadly disease.
Types of cancer from alcohol and drinking:
The risk of contracting these cancers begins even when you start to drink relatively small amounts of alcohol. Therefore, when it comes to cancer, the reality is there is no “safe” amount of alcohol to drink.
Most of us are aware that alcohol isn’t good for our health, but just how bad is it?
Equally, all of us realise how dangerous cancer is, but are you aware that alcohol can directly cause several types of cancer?
We may think that cancer will never happen to us; for instance, cancer may not run in our families, we may lead reasonably healthy lifestyles with just the occasional alcoholic drink, but is this true?
Below we take a look at the evidence for alcohol consumption and cancer risk..
In 2015, the latest statistics showed an estimated 2.5 million people in the UK were living with cancer. This is an increase of nearly half a million new diagnoses on the previous five years. This figure is predicted to further rise to a staggering 4 million people living in the UK with cancer by 2030.
Thanks to advances in treatment, the proportion of people living longer after cancer is increasing, and the number of people alive five or more years from initial diagnosis is predicted to more than double to 2.7 million between 2010 and 2030.
However, recovery from cancer does come at a cost. Surviving cancer is one thing, living the rest of your life post-cancer and with the effects of the various aggressive treatments is quite another. Sadly, around one in four (25%) people in the UK already face poor health or disability having received treatment for cancer.
So, how are these increasing cancer-related statistics linked to alcohol, and should we be worried?
By far, the most significant risk factor for most cancers is simply getting older. More than three-quarters of all people diagnosed with cancer in the UK are over the age of 60. Thanks to advancements in science and medicine, we are living longer. By the same token, we are exposing ourselves to more harmful toxins, and alcohol plays a key role.
Cancer is a disease of our genes – The bits of DNA code that hold the instructions for all of the microscopic machinery inside our cells. Over time, mistakes made from increasing exposure to toxins accumulate in this code. Scientists can now see them stamped in cancer’s DNA. It is these mistakes that can kick start a cell’s journey towards becoming cancerous.
The longer we live, the more time we have for mistakes to build up. And so, as time passes, our risk of developing cancer increases, as we accumulate more of these faults in our genes.
Now, more people than ever are living to an age where cancer becomes a real risk factor.
You may not realise, but only a small proportion of all cancer cases (5–10%) can be attributed to genetic defects. The remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle.
Lifestyle factors contributing to cancer include alcohol, tobacco, diet (fried foods, red meat), sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity.
The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths as many as 30–35% are linked to diet and lifestyle (including alcohol), 25–30% are due to tobacco, approximately 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage is due to other factors like radiation, stress, physical activity and environmental pollutants etc. (3)
This is certainly worth considering as alcohol dependence is also on the rise, along with alcohol-related deaths. In the UK in 2017, 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths were recorded. This is the highest number of alcohol deaths since 2008.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK today, and scientists estimate that 8% of cases are caused by alcohol consumption.
Obviously not everyone who drinks alcohol will go on to develop cancer, however, statistically, the risk does increase, and so we should be worried about our drinking habits.
To reinforce this point, scientists estimate that alcohol directly causes 11,900 cases of cancer per year in the UK. That’s 11, 900 cases of cancer that could be avoided JUST by avoiding alcohol.
Consuming alcohol is not just bad for health in terms of cancer. Alcohol can cause other life-threatening illnesses including addiction, liver disease such as cirrhosis, high blood pressure, heart failure and dementia.
Even the pleasurable effects of alcohol can be a risk to our health. Impaired judgment can contribute to a higher risk of injury (for example, driving whilst drunk or falling); an increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviour, or taking other dangerous drugs.
Alcohol can also increase your chances of developing debilitating and even life-threatening mental health illnesses also. If you drink above the recommended safe drinking levels, you are at an increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Alcohol itself is an extremely toxic substance, and simply consuming too much over a short time period can cause alcohol poisoning. Without emergency treatment, this can often prove fatal.
In the UK binge drinking is defined as the consumption of more than 8 units of alcohol in a single session for men or 6 units for women.
Whilst binge drinking does increase the risk of alcohol-related harmful behaviour and illness, to our knowledge, it does not particularly affect the risk of developing cancer.
There is currently no sound evidence as to whether one particular type of drinking pattern is worse than any other when it comes to causing cancer.
There are 3 main ways in which cancer is caused by alcohol.
Acetaldehyde can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage. As stated above, alcohol also causes cirrhosis which can increase the risk of cancer.
The government recently released guidelines which are clear – that no amount of alcohol consumption is good for your health.
Some studies reported in the press have suggested drinking a small amount of alcohol may actually be good for our hearts, owing to a group of chemical compounds called polyphenols.
However, the evidence is mixed, and you can find these compounds in lots of other healthier alternatives such as berries.
It is far better for your heart to simply exercise regularly and ensure that you eat a healthy diet, whilst avoiding obviously damaging toxins such as alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Cutting down on alcohol consumption or stopping altogether should not present a significant problem for most people; however some people may find they struggle. In terms of reducing your risk of developing alcohol-related cancer, it is most definitely worth considering. The more you drink, the more toxins you are exposed to, the higher the risk of developing cancer caused by alcohol.
If you have cancer in the family, have additional risk factors and are frequently exposing yourself to alcohol, then this is a sure sign you should stop. You will only ever benefit healthwise from stopping drinking regardless of additional risk factors present. Cancer is yet another reason to review your current drinking habits.
If you find it difficult to reduce or stop your alcohol intake, you may find that you need professional help. A good place to start is your GP who will be able to advise you of what alcohol treatment is freely available in your area. Try to be honest with your GP as then their advice will be more appropriate.
Alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer including bowel cancer. It is estimated that about 6 out of 100 bowel cancers (6%) in the UK are linked to alcohol.
For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol at all. If you do drink alcohol, keep it as low as possible with an upper limit of no more than 14 units a week and try to spread it out over the week. Remember to have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
If you are alcohol dependent, then you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop drinking suddenly without medical help. The physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include hangover tremors (‘the shakes’), sweating, nausea, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not actually there), and alcoholic seizures.
With a physical dependence on alcohol, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can and do kill, so please always seek medical advice before attempting to stop.
The psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness and insomnia.
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dangerous and can be fatal. You should always seek urgent medical attention if you are experiencing them. (12)
If you have funds available and are in need of an alcohol detox without delay, then investing in a private alcohol detox or alcohol rehab could well save your life, and in more than just one way.
When considering if you need to stop drinking to reduce your risk of cancer, it is wise to include the above evidence. If you are already at high risk of cancer or are alcohol dependent, it’s safe to say that stopping alcohol would be a life-saving measure.
If you need help with this, call Rehab Guide on 02072052845 for more information.
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