Are You Aware Alcohol Increases Your Risk for Colon Cancer?

A new study finds that many Americans are unaware that alcoholic beverages increase the risk for several types of cancer, including colon cancer.

Alcohol is a well-established carcinogen that increases cancer risk and cancer recurrence. Alcohol use can increase the risk for mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, breast and colon cancer. Even someone who drinks only one alcoholic beverage daily displays an elevated risk for cancer, and the risk increases as a person consumes more alcohol over time.

According to Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, many adults are unaware that alcohol influences cancer risk. In fact, many Americans believe wine and even liquor have health benefits.

“Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer in the United States, and previous research has shown that most Americans don’t know this,” said the study’s lead author, Andrew Seidenberg, PhD, MPH, who conducted the study during a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute.

According to Dr. Seidenberg, alcohol contributed to more than 75,000 cases of cancer and 19,000 cancer deaths per year between 2013 and 2016.

Americans lack awareness of alcohol’s link to cancer

Dr. Seidenberg and his research team analyzed survey responses from a 2020 study of almost 4,000 adults. Participants answered the following question: “In your opinion, how much does drinking the following types of alcohol affect the risk for getting cancer?” The study recorded responses for beer, wine and liquor.

Some of the findings included the following:

  • Less than half of Americans are aware that alcohol affects cancer risk.
  • 2 percent of Americans were aware that liquor increased cancer risk, followed by beer (24.9 percent) and then wine (20.3 percent).
  • Ten percent of American adults thought wine decreased cancer risk, while 2.2 percent thought beer reduced cancer risk, and 1.7 percent thought liquor reduced cancer risk.

The study found older adults had lower awareness than younger adults that alcohol use can cause cancer. Dr. Seidenberg believes this disparity may be due to long-standing drinking habits in the older generation.

Alcohol puts you at risk for colon or rectal cancer

While some claim resveratrol (a plant compound found in grapes) has health benefits, researchers have no evidence that consuming red wine can decrease colon cancer risk. Many studies have analyzed whether stopping alcohol use can lower cancer risk, but research shows it may take years for cancer risk to decline.

Moderate to heavy drinkers increase their colon cancer risk 1.2- to 1.5-fold compared to non-drinkers. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest men drink no more than two drinks per day and women drink no more than one drink per day. However, it is best for your health to only drink on special occasions.

Prevent colon cancer with routine colonoscopy

Colon cancer is one of the only preventable cancers because screening can be diagnostic and therapeutic. Colonoscopy is the best colon cancer method because your doctor can view the entire colon and remove abnormal tissue, called polyps, during the exam. If left intact, polyps may develop into cancer. Thus, you can prevent colon cancer by getting screened.

Are you current with your colon cancer screening? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests adults at average risk for colon cancer should begin screening at age 45, but those with a family or personal history of colon polyps or cancer should get screened earlier. You may also require evaluation for possible colon cancer if you have digestive symptoms. Call your gastroenterologist and make an appointment for a colonoscopy.