Can Alcohol Cause Cancer?
If even light drinking can cause cancer, why don’t doctors warn their patients about it?
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
We’ve known about the possible association between the consumption of alcohol and excessive mortality from cancer for more than a hundred years. Though the evidence is accumulating that alcohol drinking is also associated with pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma, we’re pretty certain that alcohol increases risk of mouth cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, voice-box cancer, and breast cancer. Current estimates suggest that alcohol causes about 5.8% of all cancer deaths in these organs worldwide.
Here’s how that breaks down for men and women. In men, alcohol causes mostly head and neck cancers, and gastrointestinal cancers, whereas it’s mostly breast cancer in women. Alcohol appears to cause more than 100,000 cases of breast cancer every year. Yeah, but is that just among heavy drinkers? No. “All levels of evidence show…a risk relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.”
Now, eating a healthy diet may help modulate that risk. Yeah, alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, but “a fiber-rich diet [may have] the opposite effect.” So, eating more whole plant foods may be able to “ease the adverse effects” of alcohol. “Alcohol has been shown to increase sex hormone levels,” like estrogen, which may increase breast cancer risk. But, you see the opposite happen eating fiber-rich foods. “Fiber [appears to] bind estrogen in the colon” and help flush it out of the body. But, even so, there does not appear to be any level of alcohol consumption that is completely safe from a cancer standpoint.
So, that’s why you see commentaries like this in the medical literature, exclamation point and all: the “[c]onsumption of…an addictive carcinogen, cannot be [considered] a healthy lifestyle choice!” “Thus, the final message on [alcohol] should be clear: It is toxic, carcinogenic, [birth defect-causing], and potentially addictive. By arguing otherwise, scientists can give the alcohol lobby and advertisers the opportunity to manipulate the scientific evidence to [place] profits” over public health.
They do this through denying the evidence, distorting the evidence, and trying to distract the public’s attention. “The [alcohol industry, Big Booze,] appears to be engaged in the [same kind of] extensive misrepresentation of [the] evidence” for which Big Tobacco is best known.
Yet, they are able to maintain this illusion of righteousness. Alcohol, tobacco, and junk food companies “increasingly seek to present themselves…as objective providers of health information about their products.” But, “[health information…should come from health authorities, not the 21st century’s most successful drug peddlers.”
“Alcohol industries profit hugely from this disconnect [though] and sometimes even appropriate the cause of cancer prevention in order to promote their carcinogenic product.” Case in point: Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade. “Join The Fight & Drink Pink” carcinogens, associating “the creation of their pink-ribboned alcohol with the death of one of their employees from breast cancer,” ironically, “contribut[ing] to risk in the name of prevention.” Who, after all, can forget Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign?
Cancer risk is one of the things the alcohol industry won’t tell you. But, why doesn’t your doctor tell you? There’s relatively little public awareness of the link, and the medical community has largely remained silent. The medical profession may be getting more hip to corporate conflicts of interest in general, but “why are we ignoring the alcohol industry?”
In other words: “Why is alcohol cancer’s best-kept secret?” Maybe it’s because the doctors are drinkers themselves. And so, they want to remain in denial over the whole thing.
Not only do most doctors drink; a significant proportion admit to drinking while on call and report encountering fellow physicians on call while apparently impaired. Even though most doctors feel they have an obligation to tell their patients should such a situation arise, guess how many actually do? “[O]nly 12% reported that they” inform their patients when they’ve been drinking.
“The…industry…has identified the alcohol-causes-cancer message as a considerable threat.” They have a “vested interest in maintaining the status quo of relative ignorance, uncertainty and denial among the general population and their trusted health advisers. “In the face of this, it is time that health professionals set aside any leanings that might stem from their own drinking…and convey unreservedly to their patients and the communities they serve that alcohol-causes-cancer.”