Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Want to Drink Less Alcohol?

WHILE I AM NOT ONE TO MAKE New Year’s resolutions, I know that many of you make them to improve their health and better their lives.

Here are the numbers: Approximately one-quarter of Americans volunteer that they made New Year’s resolutions. The most common commitments? Exercising more, with nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed offering that as their goal. Other targets include diet (45 percent), losing weight (44 percent), and saving money (41 percent).

I put resolutions aside in favor of focusing on my pillars of health:3 Pillars of Wellness for 2022HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU. I genuinely appreciate that you took time out of your day to read my musings. Today, I want to…medium.com.

Irrespective of whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, some of you may have a goal of drinking less alcohol. Cutting back can provide both short- and long-term health benefits.

Today, I will focus on cancer, even as I recognize that alcohol can influence the probability of vehicle crashes, violence, physical and mental health, and sexual risk behaviors.

Alcohol consumption guidelines

The United States Centers for Disease Control recently developed guidelines to help folks drop their risk of alcohol-related harms. Let’s look at them:

  • Adults of the legal drinking age can choose not to drink or drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less for women on days when alcohol is consumed.
  • Individuals who do not drink alcohol should not start drinking for any reason.
  • If adults of the legal drinking age choose to drink alcoholic beverages, drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

An impetus for my writing this piece is noting how many of my patients with cancer exceed these recommendations for alcohol consumption. Two in three adult drinkers report drinking above these moderate levels at least once per month.

Photo by Andrea Riezzo on Unsplash

Alcohol and cancer

The American Cancer Society reminds us that alcohol consumption is associated with a higher risk of several cancers, including breast, colon, and liver cancers. Alcohol also likely increases your chances of cancers of the stomach and other organs.

There is a dose-response relationship — the more alcohol you consume, the higher your cancer risk. My patients are often surprised when I note that some forms of cancer (for example, breast cancer) can be associated with even small amounts of alcohol intake.

Does the alcohol type matter?

You already know that ethanol is an alcohol type in alcoholic beverages, whether wine, beer, liquors, or other forms. While alcohol-containing beverages can have varying percentages of ethanol, typically, a standard drink (five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor) has about one-half ounce of alcohol. Stronger or larger drinks have more ethanol.

The cumulative volume of alcohol consumed over time is the most critical factor for cancer risk. This is akin to tobacco and cancer risk — we calculate pack-years smoked by multiplying the number of packs per day by the number of years used.

Alcohol — Takeaway messages

Some individuals should not consume alcohol. These include those who are pregnant (or might be), young people under the legal age for drinking, those who have certain medical conditions (or are taking certain medications) that interact with alcohol, and those recovering from an alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount they drink.

It is probably safest for breastfeeding women to dodge alcohol, too.

With more than two out of three consumers of alcohol exceeding guidelines, I want to remind you that reducing (or stopping) alcohol can meaningfully reduce the risk of getting cancer.


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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.

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