Just one glass of wine a day significantly raises the risk of women developing an alcohol-related cancer, mainly breast cancer, report Harvard researchers who tracked more than 100,000 health professionals for up to 30 years.

Alcohol-related cancers, such as bowel cancer, oral cancer, throat cancer and liver cancer, were also higher among light and moderate drinking (up to 2 drinks/day) men, but only in those who had ever smoked. In light to moderate drinking men who hadn’t smoked, there was no link between alcohol and cancer.

The results have led study author Dr Jurgen Rehm to recommend, “Roughly speaking, women should not exceed one standard drink a day and men should not exceed 2 standard drinks a day”.

He urges people with a family history of cancer, especially women with a family history of breast cancer, to think seriously about their alcohol consumption, concluding, “they 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.

The researchers suggest female breast tissue might be more susceptible to alcohol than other organs, potentially because of increased oestrogen and androgen levels.

For all alcohol-related cancers, increased frequency of drinking (measured in days of alcohol consumption per week)  is associated with increased risk in men but not in women, whereas binge drinking (measured by largest number of drinks per day in a typical month) is associated with increased risk in women but not in men, according to the research report published in the BMJ.

Cancer Council Australia estimates that anywhere between 2,182 and 6,620 cases of cancer (or 1.9 – 5.8% of all cancers) are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.

The BMJ study is one of the first to find a link between light to moderate drinking of alcohol and cancer.

Last Reviewed: 20/08/2015

Reproduced with kind permission from 6minutes.com.au.


Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies