There are plenty of health-related reasons to cut back on wine as well as body-benefiting motives to skip your regular beer. Now a study has found that reducing the amount of alcohol that you drink may also reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer.
The August 2022 study that was published in JAMA Network Open involved over 4.5 million adults using the Korean National Health Insurance Service. The median age of the participants was 53.6 years old while 51.5% were men. After initial health screenings in 2009 and 2011, a follow-up was done 6.4 years later. During that period, the rate of cancer among participants was found to be 7.7 per 1,000 person-years.
When those behind the study took a look at the drinking habits of those involved, they found that people who had increased the amount of alcohol they had been consuming during the 6.4 years had a greater risk of being diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer.
On the contrary, it is possible to reduce risk of cancer when you reduce your alcohol intake.
Participants who had been deemed mild drinkers (who were drinking less than 15 grams per day) lowered their risk of alcohol-related cancer when they quit drinking. That was also true of heavy drinkers (30 grams or more per day) who reduced the amount of alcohol they were consuming.
What the results mean
This study found a significant link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk, but it also importantly found that cancer risk can be changed by reducing your alcohol intake.
This "suggest[s] that cancer risk can be meaningfully altered by changing the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed," noted Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., and Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland, in an accompanying editorial.
They go on to say that "alcohol consumption is an important cancer risk factor," the pair explained that a "well-examined dose-response association has been reported, with highest risks observed among people who drink 3 alcoholic beverages per day and higher."
The link between alcohol and cancer
"When you drink, you're not just increasing your risk of cancer—you're also making it harder for your body to fight the disease. That's because alcohol suppresses the immune system, making it less effective at detecting and destroying cancer cells," Harold Hong, MD, of New Waters Recovery, tells Eat This, Not That!.
"To lower your risk of cancer, the best thing you can do is to cut back on your alcohol consumption. Even better, stop drinking altogether. If you're struggling with alcoholism, you can always get help from a treatment program or support group."
If cutting alcohol out completely doesn't seem likely for you, then Dr. Hong says that "it is important to [drink] in moderation." He notes that "the American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women."
However, he adds, "Still, as a doctor, I would recommend that you avoid alcohol altogether to reduce your risk of developing not just cancer, but also other chronic diseases such as liver disease."