Should Alcohol Come with a Cancer Warning Label?

By Sarah Garcia - March 02, 2021

With more Americans spending time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be no surprise that alcohol consumption has increased significantly. A report published in September in the journal JAMA Network showed that people were drinking 14% more often than last year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drinking alcohol of any kind can increase your risk for certain cancers. The National Toxicology Program lists consumption of alcohol as a known human carcinogen.

A group of health organizations is looking to get that message out loud and clear. In a Citizen Petition, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Institute for Cancer Research, along with others, are asking for a new cancer warning label to be added on all alcoholic beverages.

Dr. Kathleen Egan
Dr. Kathleen Egan, epidemiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center

The label would read: WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers.

According to Dr. Kathleen Egan, an epidemiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, the mechanisms for alcohol-induced carcinogenesis are not fully understood, though evidence suggests a wide range of potential mechanisms for different tissues. “Your body breaks alcohol down into a chemical called acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen that damages DNA,” she said.

“Other mechanisms include increased oxidative stress, epigenetic changes that alter gene expression, increased estrogen, and effects on the immune response that can promote tumor progression and metastasis.”

Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk for six different types of cancer, including:

  • Breast (in women)
  • Mouth and throat
  • Liver
  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Esophageal
  • Colon and rectal

The less you drink, the lower the risk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you drink at all, you should do so in moderation. They recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men.

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