Science knows about the correlation of cancer and alcohol use since the 1980s.

The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC), the WHO’s research body, classifies alcohol as class one carcinogen since 1988.

But similar awareness among decision-makers and broader public has not caught up to state of the art understanding of alcohol as a cause of 7 types of cancer.

Today a body of evidence exists and keeps growing, showing how strong the correlation between alcohol use and cancer risk is.

The IARC estimates that alcohol lies behind 8% of all cases of cancer. After tobacco (18%), alcohol is thus the second biggest cause of cancer. According to some studies, 10% of total cancer cases in men and 3% total cancer cases in women could be attributable to alcohol use.

Global Evidence

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Today a body of evidence exists and keeps growing, showing how strong the correlation between alcohol use and cancer risk is.

  • The IARC estimates (a study in France) that alcohol is behind 8% of all cases of cancer: 11% in men and 5% in women. After tobacco (18%), alcohol is thus the second biggest cause of cancer, long before other risk factors such as infections (3%), physical inactivity, or sunlight.
  • The World Cancer Report 2014: Alcohol accounts for 3.5% of cancers (about 1 in 30 cancer deaths) globally.
  • Recent data indicate that the proportion of cancers attributable to alcohol worldwide has increased.
  • In 2012, alcohol consumption caused 5.5% of all cases of cancer and 5.8% of all cancer deaths.
  • Globally, in 2010: Alcohol-attributable cancer was responsible for 4.2% of all cancer deaths and 4.6% of all PYLL caused by cancer. Eastern Europe had the highest burden of mortality and morbidity from alcohol-attributable cancer, with 10.3 deaths and 272.0 PYLL per 100,000 people. North Africa and the Middle East had the lowest mortality burden of alcohol-attributable cancer, with 0.6 deaths and 17.1 PYLL per 100,000 people.
  • From 1990 to 2010 the absolute mortality burden of alcohol-attributable cancer (measured in deaths and PYLL) and the rates of deaths and PYLL per 100,000 people have each increased.

Alcohol Cancer In Europe

  • A European Union study showed that on average only 36% of the people know about alcohol’s role in cancer.
  • The AMPHORA project, a research project financed by the European Commission, calculates that 136.000 new cases of cancer in EU, yearly, are caused by alcohol use.
  • In the United Kingdom alone, alcohol causes 4% of cancers, around 12,800 cases, yearly.

European Cancer Code

European code against cancer

The European Code Against Cancer was developed with EU funds by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

  1. Do not smoke. Do not use any form of tobacco.
  2. Make your home smoke free. Support smoke-free policies in your workplace.
  3. Take action to be a healthy body weight.
  4. Be physically active in everyday life. Limit the time you spend sitting.
  5. Have a healthy diet:
    •   Eat plenty of whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
    •   Limit high-calorie foods (foods high in sugar or fat) and avoid sugary drinks.
    •   Avoid processed meat; limit red meat and foods high in salt.
  6. If you drink alcohol of any type, limit your intake. Not drinking alcohol is better for cancer prevention.
  7. Avoid too much sun, especially for children. Use sun protection. Do not use sunbeds.
  8. In the workplace, protect yourself against cancer-causing substances by following health and safety instructions.
  9. Find out if you are exposed to radiation from naturally high radon levels in your home. Take action to reduce high radon levels.
  10. For women:
    •   Breastfeeding reduces the mother’s cancer risk. If you can, breastfeed your baby.
    •   Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of certain cancers. Limit use of HRT.
  11. Ensure your children take part in vaccination programmes for:
    •   Hepatitis B (for newborns)
    •   Human papillomavirus (HPV) (for girls).
  12. Take part in organized cancer screening programmes for:  Bowel cancer (men and women)  Breast cancer (women)  Cervicalcancer(women).

7 Types Of Cancer

Alcohol causes 7 types of cancers:

  • mouth,
  • throat,
  • food pipe,
  • voice box,
  • breast (women),
  • bowel and
  • liver cancer.

Cancer kills ca. 8 million people worldwide every year.

Scientific Sources

  1. IARC Monograph Volume 96: “ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND ETHYL CARBAMATE”
  2. IARC Monographs – 100 E: “CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES”Consumption of alcoholic beverages was considered by previous IARC Working Groups in 1987 and 2007 (IARC, 1988, 2010). Since that time, new data have become available, these have been incorporated into the Monograph, and taken into consideration in the present evaluation.
  3. IARC Cancer Site by site
  4. Praud, Rehm, Zatonski et. al.: “Cancer incidence and mortality attributable to alcohol consumption” (2015)
  5. Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D. and Kevin D. Shield, MH.Sc.: “Alcohol and Mortality: Global Alcohol-Attributable Deaths From Cancer, Liver Cirrhosis, and Injury in 2010”
  6. Cao Y, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL.,: “Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies.” BMJ. 2015;351:h4238.
  7. Nelson et. al., in: Am J Public Health. 2013 April; 103(4): “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States“
  8. EPIC Study: Schütze M et al. “Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study.” BMJ. 2011 Apr 7;342:d1584. PMID: 21474525
  9. World Cancer Report 2014
  10. 2011 Global Cancer Statistics
  11. The Guardian article on the global cancer surge
  12. British Medical Journal (BMJ): “Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study”
  13. World Bank. Policy Measures: The Growing Danger of Non-Communicable Diseases. Acting Now to Reverse Course
  14. WHO: Facts
  15. World Economic Forum (WEF) and Harvard School of Public Health: The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases