Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Quitting Alcohol Drops Your Cancer Risk, Right? Not So Fast.

THERE IS NOT STRONG EVIDENCE TO PROVE THAT CUTTING DOWN (or completely stopping) alcohol intake will significantly reduce the risk of most cancers.

Yes, I, too, am surprised. There is a side note, however: Reducing or quitting alcohol does lower oral cancer risk.

In this essay, I will offer the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group.

Photo by Jon Parry on Unsplash

Edgar Allan Poe had this to say:

“Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain —
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

Does eliminating alcohol have positive effects?

Cutting back on alcohol has several positive effects, according to a comprehensive review of 63 studies. When people reduce or quit drinking, it has several positive benefits, including the following:

  • lowers the chances of ending up in the hospital
  • injury risk reduction
  • lower blood pressure
  • weight loss
  • recovery of ventricular heart function in alcoholic cardiomyopathy
  • improvement of anxiety and depression symptoms
  • improvement in mild liver disease
  • lower psychosocial stress levels
  • early mortality risk reduction
Photo by Shin Kuroyanagi on Unsplash

This lifestyle change can bring about improvements in both physical and mental health, leading to an overall better quality of life.

I wanted to include this section lest I come across as believing that alcohol is a benign drug.

Cutting back on alcohol

After reviewing dozens of studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded this:

For most alcohol-related cancers, there is limited evidence to support a link between eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption and lower cancer risk.

More specifically, the IARC Working Group, which included 15 scientists from eight countries, reported “limited” evidence on this association for laryngeal, colorectal (CRC), and breast cancer, as well as “inadequate” evidence for pharyngeal (throat) and liver cancer.

The report did highlight two exceptions: Reducing or quitting alcohol was associated with a lower risk for both oral and esophageal cancer.

The IARC working group based this conclusion on large studies of long-term alcohol cessation in these cancer types.

My thoughts

I know of the perils of alcohol.

When it comes to cancer risk, however, the benefits of quitting or cutting back on alcohol remain much less clear, according to a new report from the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Apart from the latest IARC report, some separate studies have hinted that giving up or drinking less alcohol might lower the risk of certain types of cancer.

These studies independently suggest that making changes in alcohol consumption habits could have a positive impact on reducing the chances of developing specific cancers.

Even though there’s not a ton of evidence firmly connecting cutting down or quitting drinking to a lower risk of cancer, it’s well-established that the more you drink, the higher your chances of getting cancer become.

So, while the link between less alcohol and lower cancer risk isn’t super clear, there’s a solid connection between drinking more and increasing the cancer risk.


previous IARC analysis figured out that about four percent of newly diagnosed cancers around the world are linked to drinking alcohol.

The types of cancer most commonly associated with alcohol are esophagus, liver, and breast cancer.

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

The IARC goes so far as to classify alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen, which means there’s strong evidence proving that alcohol can cause cancer in humans.

According to guidelines from the American Cancer Society, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services, women should have one drink or less per day, and men should stick to two drinks or less on any given day.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Connect with Dr. Hunter



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