Having 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a day increases risk of cancer by damaging DNA, new study finds

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  • Drinking alcohol is linked to higher risk of cancer, even if you drink in moderation, a new study suggests.

  • Researchers found the habit of having two drinks a day contributed to 103,000 new cancer cases in 2020.

  • Men are more likely to have risky drinking habits, and make up the majority of alcohol-related cancer cases.

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Consuming as little as two alcoholic drinks a day was linked to more than 103,000 new cancer cases in 2020, according to a July 13 study in The Lancet Oncology.

The study team, led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found that a total of 741,300 new cancer cases globally last year were alcohol-related.

While heavy drinking - six or more alcoholic drinks a day - continues to be the biggest contributor, these findings are cause for concern about drinking habits worldwide, the researchers said.

"We urgently need to raise awareness about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk among policy makers and the general public," Harriet Rumgay, lead author of the study and doctoral student at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said in a press release.

The more you drink, the higher the risk

Drinking increases the risk of cancer because of toxins created as the body metabolizes alcohol, according to the National Cancer Institute. These harmful chemical byproducts can damage DNA and cell proteins. The process of breaking down alcohol can also prevent the digestive system from focusing instead on absorbing important nutrients, which can lead to other health issues over time.

Some research has even suggested that there is no safe amount of alcohol, since any amount of booze can increase the risk of health issues like liver disease and stroke as well as cancer.

However, that doesn't mean it's pointless to cut back. Moderation is a safer approach than habitually drinking more than two daily servings of alcohol, according to the data.

Risky drinking, defined as two to six drinks per day, was linked to more than twice as many cancer cases as moderate drinking. And heavy drinking contributed to nearly half of all alcohol-related cases in 2020, 346,400 in total.

Men still make up the majority of alcohol-related cancer cases

Researchers found that men were significantly more likely than women to develop alcohol-related cancer, accounting for 77% of all new cases, 568,700 globally, in 2020.

Previous CDC research has shown that men are more likely than women to drink alcohol in the first place, and when they do, they're also more prone to binge drinking and alcohol use disorder.

However, more recent data suggest that women are starting to close the gap in problem drinking behaviors, which could lead to an increase in women's cancer diagnoses in the next decade.

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