Alcohol causes cancer. Not drinking or drinking less alcohol reduces your risk of many cancers.

Avoiding Alcohol

To help reduce the cancers that are caused by alcohol we want to see it less available, less convenient, and less affordable in our communities.

As alcohol is a preventable cause of cancer in Aotearoa, this is an important focus for the Cancer Society. 

We all have a part to play to encourage the government to protect whānau from alcohol-related cancer through:

 

  • raising awareness that alcohol causes cancer and
  • advocating for greater alcohol policies

There is no such thing as ‘safe’ drinking

There is no safe level of drinking alcohol in relation to cancer. Drinking any regular alcohol can increase your chance of developing some cancers.   To protect against alcohol-related cancer, The World Cancer Research Fund, recommends, ‘it is best, not to drink alcohol’.

 

Frequently asked questions about alcohol and cancer

Alcohol is the common name used for ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol), which is a chemical that is produced by the fermentation of sugars and starches by yeast. Fermentation is the process used to produce beer, wine, spirits, and fermented products such as kombucha and cider

Alcohol and its breakdown products can cause direct cell damage, such as to the mouth and throat.  Alcohol can also cause hormonal changes (such as oestrogen), that result in causing cells to develop and divide faster.

 

 

There is strong evidence that alcohol increases the likelihood of at least seven types of cancer. Alcohol can cause cancer of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), oesophagus (food pipe), liver, bowel, and breast (in women). Bowel cancer and breast cancer (in women) are two of the most common cancers in Aotearoa.  The high energy content (kilojoules or calories) of alcohol can also cause weight gain and weight-related-cancers.

 

7 types of cancer

The evidence linking alcohol to cancer is of the highest level. We have evidence from a range of studies, involving millions of people, that show alcohol increases the risk of many different types of cancer. World leading cancer organisations including International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) all agree that alcohol is a cause of cancer.

In most cases, we don’t know what specifically causes an individual’s cancer.  Drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood of cancer but so can your age, genetics and the environment in which we live. Tobacco, too much UV radiation from the Sun, being overweight and a lack of physical activity can also cancer.

For more information or help, see Alcohol.org.nz or Alcohol Drug Helpline.

It’s never too late to stop drinking alcohol. The less you drink the lower your cancer risk.  While stopping alcohol may not provide an immediate decline in cancer risks, they do occur over time

There is no amount of alcohol that is ‘safe’. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol regularly can cause cancer. For example, breast cancer in women increases by around 7-10 percent per standard drink per day. For more information see What’s a Standard Drink?

The more alcohol, the higher the chance of developing cancers. To protect against alcohol-related cancer risk, it’s best not to drink alcohol.

Alcohol causes cancer and yet it is cheap, advertised everywhere and easy to get. To protect our communities there needs to be limits on alcohol advertising, sport sponsorships and the number of places that alcohol is sold.

The Cancer Society is working with other agencies to get support for greater alcohol regulation to protect communities from alcohol harm

Reducing alcohol where we live, work and play

Communities where alcohol has less or no marketing allowed and lower alcohol availability, would be good ways to showcase whānau friendly spaces and positive role modelling. Reducing alcohol in our communities is an important area of work for the Cancer Society to help reduce cancers caused by alcohol. 

Currently, alcohol is cheap, widely marketed, and easy to get. Poorer suburbs often have even more alcohol advertising and outlets selling alcohol than others. 

  • Māori youth are exposed five times and Pacific three more to alcohol marketing everyday, compared to European youth.

Young people who have greater exposure to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking at an earlier age and engage in binge and hazardous drinking. The easy access to cheap alcohol affects alcohol-related cancer risk and the higher rates experienced by whānau.

We support stronger laws to reduce the availability, affordability and marketing of alcohol and its normalisation in our communities. 

What can you do?

If we all work together, we can create an environment where alcohol is less readily available in our communities to help lower the chance of cancer.

Everyone has a part to play in limiting alcohol where we live, work and play. Talk to your whānau, workplace, school or community about ways to take action to reduce alcohol in your organisation or community:

Last updated: May 12, 2022