Alcohol Listed as 'Known Carcinogen'

Previously a Catalyst, Now Listed as a Carcinogen

Worried Woman
Alcohol Linked to Breast Cancer Risk. © Getty Images

Alcoholic beverages have been officially listed as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its "Report on Carcinogens" 9th edition.

The report states that consumption of alcoholic beverages is causally related to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus and that studies indicate that the risk is most pronounced among smokers and at the highest levels of consumption.

Alcohol Linked to Cancers

The effect of a given level of alcoholic beverage intake on cancers of the head and neck is influenced by other factors, especially smoking, but that smoking does not explain the increased cancer hazard associated with alcoholic beverage consumption according to the report.

There is evidence that suggests a link between alcoholic beverage consumption and cancer of the liver and breast.

Potential Hazard

The report was first ordered by Congress in 1978 to educate both the public and health professionals in the recognition that many cancers are apparently induced by chemicals in the home, workplace, general environment and from the use of certain drugs.

It identifies "potential" cancer hazards. A listing in the report does not by itself establish that a substance presents a cancer risk to an individual in daily life, according to press releases.

Dose-Dependent Association

However the "known" category is reserved for those substances for which there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans that indicates a cause and effect relationship between the exposure and human cancer.

Epidemiologic research has shown a dose-dependent association between alcohol consumption and certain types of cancer; as alcohol consumption increases, so does risk of developing certain cancers.

Previous research indicated alcohol was a possible catalyst, but not a carcinogen itself.

Colon, Liver and Breast Cancer Risks

Other studies have linked alcohol consumption to colon cancer, especiall in drinkers who also smoke tobacco.

Research has also associated heavy alcohol consumption with an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

Numerous studies in recent years have found a strong link between breast cancer and drinking any amount of alcohol. This included one study of 150,000 women that found that as little as one drink per day can significantly increase breast cancer risk.

Another study even linked the alcohol consumption by women during their pregnancy to the increased risk of their unborn daughters in developing breast cancers later in life.