Alcohol and Your Health - Minnesota Department of Health

Alcohol and Cancer

The cancers alcohol use is connected to. Many are aware that alcohol is linked to health problems. But many might not know that drinking alcohol can raise the risk of getting certain forms of cancer. Research has shown that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of the following cancers:

  • mouth
  • throat (pharynx)
  • voice box (larynx)
  • esophagus
  • breast (in women)
  • stomach
  • liver
  • rectal and colon1

For each of these cancers, the more alcohol you drink, the higher the risk of cancer. 

Alcohol and cancer are connected

Alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen like tobacco.2,4

In the body, alcohol turns into acetaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. When this toxic chemical builds up in the body, it damages DNA and prevents the body from repairing itself. Cells can begin to grow out of control, which can lead to tumors.

Other ways alcohol can contribute to cancer:

  • Contaminants can be introduced to alcoholic beverages while it is being made.3
  • Regular, heavy alcohol use can damage the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring. This might raise the risk of liver cancer.
  • Even one glass of alcohol raises levels of estrogen, which can add to breast cancer risk.4,5
  • Alcohol can make it easier for the body to absorb other cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco if used together.6
  • Alcohol can change how other nutrients are absorbed and broken down in the body.7

In 2019, cancer was the leading cause of death in Minnesota, and an estimated 43.2% of those deaths were related to alcohol.2,8

Alcohol use in Minnesota

MinnesotaMost adults in Minnesota drink alcohol. In 2020, 63.2% of men and 54.5% of women in Minnesota reported drinking alcohol. Minnesota has one of the highest binge drinking rates in the nation with 18.4% of adults reporting binge drinking in 2020, compared to 15.7% of all U.S. adults.9 Because drinking alcohol is a changeable lifestyle choice, there is work to be done to prevent unnecessary deaths and reduce cancer risk among Minnesotans and nationally.
More information on Alcohol Use in Minnesota.

Reducing risk of cancer

Communities can work to create and promote policies and practices that reduce drinking alcohol among adults and minors.

Individuals can limit alcohol use and stay up to date on alcohol and cancer related research and dietary recommendations.

Additional Resources

For more information

Kari Gloppen at kari.gloppen@state.mn.us for alcohol-related data information.

Dana Farley at dana.farley@state.mn.us for policy or program information.

References

1) World Cancer Research Fund & American Institute for Cancer Research 2018 (PDF)

2) IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 100E

3) National Cancer Institute. Alcohol and Cancer Risk 2021

4) World Health Organization. Alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for cancer. 2021

5) Chen et al. 2011. JAMA,306(17):1884-90.

6) Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. How does alcohol cause cancer? 2017

7) Lieber CS, 2003

8) Sauer et al, 2021

9) CDC Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System

Updated Wednesday, 23-Mar-2022 12:20:01 CDT