Pounding a few beers a day might not just be bad news for your waistline—it could also put your health at serious risk. According to a new statement from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), drinking alcohol is linked to a greater chance of developing several types of cancers.
In the statement, researchers pulled data from previous studies and existing literature to analyze the impact of alcohol on cancer risk. Their final conclusion? Booze is linked to higher risks of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, larynx, liver, and colorectum. It also raises the risk of breast cancer in women.
While the greatest cancer risks are seen in those who drink moderately or heavy, even light drinking can be dangerous, too. The researchers defined light drinking as less than or equal to 12.5 grams of alcohol a day, moderate drinking as less than or equal to 50 grams of alcohol a day, and heavy drinking as greater than 50 grams of alcohol a day. For context, the standard alcoholic drink—say, 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot—contains about 14 grams of alcohol.
The strongest association was seen in cancers of the upper digestive tract, like of the oral cavity and esophagus. For instance, light drinkers were 26 percent more likely to develop esophageal cancer than nondrinkers were. That's because alcohol comes in direct contact with the tissue in your mouth and esophagus, the researchers say.
Moderate drinkers were more than twice as likely as nondrinkers to get the cancer—and heavy drinkers were nearly five times as likely to develop it.
In 2007, the International Agency for Cancer Research declared alcoholic carcinogenic, the researchers pointed out, meaning that it has been found to cause cancer in humans.
The researchers write that this can possibly be attributed to how alcohol is broken down in your body. When your body metabolizes alcohol, it produces a byproduct called acetaldehyde. This chemical can mess with your DNA, possibly upping your risk by triggering cancer-causing mutations.
It’s also possible that alcohol can trigger body-wide inflammation, which can raise your cancer risk, too, the researchers say.
Importantly, it doesn’t seem to matter which kind of alcohol you’re drinking, either. The statement notes that the link between cancer risk and booze pretty much remains consistent whether we’re talking about beer, wine, or liquor.