Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start. There is evidence that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages or binge drinking is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from
several forms of cancer.  Low amounts of wine on the other hand, are not associated with the risk of any cancer site with the possible exception of breast cancer for women and cancers of upper gastrointestinal tract (GIT) such as the mouth and throat as well as the liver.  An increased risk for the GIT cancers is observed with all alcoholic beverages, which is a linear relationship (the greater the amount, the higher the risk), and especially in combination with smoking.


With regards to breast cancer and alcoholic beverages, the research results vary widely since not only the amount of alcohol but also other co-factors as well as drinking pattern play an important role and have to be taken into consideration. 


The majority of epidemiological studies, however, show a linear increase in the relative risk of breast cancer with an increasing dose of alcohol but the magnitude of the effect is small. An increased breast cancer risk is observed in women with additional co-factors such as genetic disposition, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), low folate intake, overweight and smoking.


A meta-analysis for example, examined the influence of hormones on breast cancer risk and found that alcoholic beverages (> 20g/d) might increase the breast cancer risk only among women who were concurrently using menopausal hormone therapy (HT) and /or having estrogen receptors positive tumors. These findings indicate that a hormone-related mechanism may mediate the relation between alcohol drinking and an increased breast cancer risk. Among women who had ceased using HT, the risk associated with 2 or more drinks per day was not apparent.

Another factor to be considered is folate intake. Several studies have shown an inverse relation between folate intake and cancer. Accordingly, some research results found a significant interaction between the consumption of alcoholic beverages and folate intake where alcohol seems to increase the risk significantly only for those individuals with low folate intake.

All the studies show that the knowledge about the causes of breast cancer is still very incomplete and as scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the USA, recently pointed out, some other (possible confounding) factors have not been considered in the research relating the consumption of alcoholic beverages to breast cancer:

  1. In the epidemiological data provided, the intake of alcoholic beverages is usually under-reported by subjects (which could exaggerate the harm associated with light drinking).
  2. In most studies, the pattern of drinking (regularly and moderately vs. binge drinking with a similar total weekly alcohol consumption) as well as beverage type have generally not been taken into account. However, this aspect of drinking pattern is important given that binge drinking is associated with much higher blood alcohol concentrations and acetaldehyde accumulation (a known carcinogen) and production of free radicals (reactive oxygen species). Considering that the blood alcohol level may be the most important mechanism for effects on cancer risk, the pattern by which a woman consumes a given amount of alcohol is particularly relevant in interpreting associations.
  3. In addition, epidemiological studies usually provide data only for a short period of time, while the development of cancer may relate to exposures over many decades.

The authors concluded that based on scientific evidence, in post menopausal women, the increase in the risk of breast cancer, if there is any at all, is small..


The relationship between wine consumption and cancer is even more complex. It is not yet completely proven that wine drinkers have a lower risk for cancer than drinkers of other alcoholic beverages. However, epidemiological studies indicate a lower cancer risk for wine drinkers for most cancer sites compared to drinkers of other alcoholic beverages. Moderate wine intake may actually reduce the risk of oesophagus, thyroid, lung, kidney and colorectal cancers as well as Non-Hodgkin’s Lyphoma. To what extent differences in drinking pattern or certain beverage-specific ingredients are responsible still needs to be determined. Concerning breast cancer, there may also be a protective role for wine.

What might be a possible mechanism for the protective effect of wine? Damage to the DNA of cells by chemicals in the environment and food as well as by the physical environment can lead to cancer. Various experimental studies suggest that the phenolic compounds in wine may protect the DNA of cells of body tissues from damage or may stop the growth of cells with damaged DNA. Complete sequencing of the grapevine genome has revealed genes that are responsible for the synthesis of health-promoting compounds (resveratrol and other polyphenols). 
Another potential explanation for the observation that in some studies  red wine does not appear to increase breast cancer risk, may be the fact that red wine is a nutritional aromatase inhibitor (AI).  Aromatase inhibitors (AI) prevent the conversion of androgens to estrogens, thus a hormone-related mechanism might be involved. 


In summary, the cancer risk should not be evaluated in isolation, one particular food factor (like wine consumption) should not be analysed out of context with its cultural and culinary habits. The effect of wine on cancer risk also depends on whether it is consumed with or without a meal and the  nature of other foods consumed. There needs to be a distinction between different types of cancer and the influence of lifestyle (according to the World Cancer Research Fund, more than 1/3 of the cancers could be prevented by a healthy diet, regular physical activity and no weight gain) and genetic factors needs to be assessed.  


In future studies, the focus should be more on the pattern of drinking, not just the average weekly amount of alcohol, and thus, have a better understanding of how moderate drinking impacts cancer risk. This will allow consumers to make better informed decisions about the risks and benefits of moderate wine consumption in the context of their overall health and at different stages of their life.


The above summary provide an overview of the topic, for more details and specific questions, please refer to the articles in the database.





The prevalence of binge drinking is rising in the United States. While alcohol is a breast cancer risk factor, less is known about the impact of episodic heavy drinking. Breast cancer-free women, ages 35-74, were enrolled in the Sister Study from 2003-2009 (n = 50,884). United States or Puerto Rico residents who had a sister with breast cancer were eligible. Multivariable Cox regression was used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for breast cancer. 1,843 invasive breast cancers were diagnosed during follow-up (mean = 6.4 years). Increased breast cancer risk was observed for higher lifetime alcohol intake (>/=230 drinks/year, HR = 1.35, 95% CI: 1.15, 1.58 versus
Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to an approximate 30-50% increased risk in breast cancer. Case-control and cohort studies have consistently observed this modest increase. We highlight recent evidence from molecular epidemiologic studies and studies of intermediate markers like mammographic density that provide additional evidence that this association is real and not solely explained by factors/correlates of the exposure and outcome present in non-randomized studies. We also review evidence from studies of higher risk women including BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Given the incidence of heart disease is higher than breast cancer and modest alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, we examine the latest evidence to evaluate if alcohol reduction should be targeted to women at…
Alcohol consumption by adult women is consistently associated with risk of breast cancer. Several questions regarding alcohol and breast cancer need to be addressed. Menarche to first pregnancy represents a window of time when breast tissue is particularly susceptible to carcinogens. Youth alcohol consumption is common in the USA, largely in the form of binge drinking and heavy drinking. Whether alcohol intake acts early in the process of breast tumorigenesis is unclear. This review aims to focus on the influences of timing and patterns of alcohol consumption and the effect of alcohol on intermediate risk markers. We also review possible mechanisms underlying the alcohol-breast cancer association.
The occurrence of more than 200 diseases, including cancer, can be attributed to alcohol drinking. The global cancer deaths attributed to alcohol-consumption rose from 243,000 in 1990 to 337,400 in 2010. In 2010, cancer deaths due to alcohol consumption accounted for 4.2% of all cancer deaths. Strong epidemiological evidence has established the causal role of alcohol in the development of various cancers, including esophageal cancer, head and neck cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. The evidence for the association between alcohol and other cancers is inconclusive. Because of the high prevalence of ALDH2*2 allele among East Asian populations, East Asians may be more susceptible to the carcinogenic effect of alcohol, with most evidence coming from studies of esophageal…
Humans are cumulatively exposed to acetaldehyde from various sources including alcoholic beverages, tobacco smoke, foods and beverages. The genetic-epidemiologic and biochemical evidence in ALDH2-deficient humans provides strong evidence for the causal relationship between acetaldehyde-exposure due to alcohol consumption and cancer of the upper digestive tract. The risk assessment has so far relied on thresholds based on animal toxicology with lower one-sided confidence limit of the benchmark dose values (BMDL) typically ranging between 11 and 63 mg/kg bodyweight (bw)/day dependent on species and endpoint. The animal data is problematic for regulatory toxicology for various reasons (lack in study quality, problems in animal models and appropriateness of endpoints - especially cancer - for transfer to humans). In this study, data from genetic…


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