Is Drinking Alcohol Safe with Colon Cancer?

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Many people enjoy the occasional glass of wine with dinner or an icy cold beer after mowing the lawn. However, if you are actively fighting colorectal cancer or actively trying to prevent it, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you actively undergoing chemotherapy, drinking alcohol may not be the best idea. Your doctor will be able to tell you if the chemotherapy drugs you are receiving can be mixed with alcohol.

Likewise, your treatment may consist of medications to help you with pain, sleep, nausea or even depression. Many of these medications cannot be safely taken with alcohol, so it is important to ask your doctor first, even if having one drink seems harmless enough to you. 

Alcohol as a Carcinogen

When we think of carcinogens, or substances known to increase the risk of cancer in humans, we most commonly envision smoking, asbestos, pesticides, and other publicized substances. However, the Department of Health and Human Services lists alcohol as a human carcinogen. During the digestion of alcohol, your body breaks it down into different particles, one being a substance called acetaldehyde, which is the actual carcinogen. Acetaldehyde has demonstrated its ability to damage DNA. Likewise, alcohol consumption is associated with decreased vitamin and mineral absorption, which are the nutrients that help protect your DNA against free radical damage.


Alcohol Related Cancers

As of yet, science has not tied alcohol consumption to an increased risk for all types of cancer, although we do know that chronic over-consumption can cause other problems. However, an increased risk has been shown for cancers of the:

    It is purported that one reason behind the risk of breast cancer is the fact that excessive alcohol consumption can increase a female's estrogen levels, promoting the perfect setting for estrogen receptive cancers. Head and neck cancers mainly focus on those of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus, from chronic irritation to these mucosal tissues with alcohol. The liver is mainly responsible for clearing the alcohol from your blood; chronic over consumption is taxing to this organ and can also lead to other problems such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. The risk between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer is slightly higher in men, but is still present for women. There is also a genetic risk factor -- how your genes are programmed to break down the alcohol may play a factor in your potential for an increased risk of any of these cancers.

    Keeping It Safe

    Regardless of whether you are fighting colorectal cancer or trying to prevent it, it's prudent to adhere to the nationally recommended daily maximum of one alcoholic drink daily for women, and two for men.

    Although with our restaurants offering 28 ounce pints and glasses of wine the size of fishbowls, it is easy to surpass that limit. As a frame of reference, one drink consists of:

    • 12 ounces of beer (or 9 ounces of malt liquor)
    • 5 ounces of wine
    • 1.5 ounces of spirits 

    It's also of note that the increased risk of developing cancer is only associated with moderate to heavy drinkers. Someone who has a glass of wine on a special occasion or a few beers a year hasn't been shown to have any increased risk of cancer. Likewise, there is not much research available to support the increased risk of colorectal cancer recurrence with drinking alcohol. However, if science has proven that moderate to heavy consumption can increase risk in general, it might be best to play if safe and ask your doctor about your personal risk before imbibing.


    National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Alcohol and Cancer Risk. Accessed online August 25, 2015.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much. Accessed online August 20, 2015.

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