Even light drinking can cause cancer, fresh study underlines

Taking some of the cheer out of happy hour, the American Society of Clinical Oncology has officially warned that any amount of alcohol drinking (yes, even that glass of wine at dinner) leads to increased cancer risk.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, ASCO said that drinking alcohol in light, moderate or heavy amounts raises your chances of being diagnosed with breast, colon, esophageal, larynx and oral cancers.

According to the organisation's paper, published in its own medical journal, nearly 6 per cent of all cancer deaths worldwide could be attributed to alcohol in 2012.

For the United States, the estimate is smaller, at 3.5 per cent.

The ASCO warning is certainly not the first time a link has been established between even light drinking and cancer.

Back in July 2016, a paper published in the journal Addiction said that even moderate drinking can lead to cancer, while the supposed benefits – like the belief that a little red wine is good for the heart – are disingenuous or irrelevant (See: Drinking causes 7 types of cancer; health benefits overrated: study).

However, ASCO does not ask people to completely abstain from alcohol, but rather pushes for a temperate use.

It cited a review that found ''the evidence to be convincing'' that alcohol consumption is not just linked to be a cause of mouth, throat, voice box, colorectal, liver and breast cancer.  The report said that there is also now enough evidence to suggest that alcohol is a probably cause of pancreatic, stomach and other cancers.

The doctors point out that while most alcohol-related cancers are among those who drink heavily, even light drinking isn't without risk – and the theory that 'a glass of red wine is good for the heart' holds no water.

In October, ASCO garnered an online nationally representative survey through Harris Poll. It found that fewer than one in three people realise that drinking alcohol is a cancer risk factor.

''People typically don't associate drinking beer, wine and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes,'' ASCO President Bruce Johnson said in a statement. ''However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established and gives the medical community guidance on how to help their patients reduce their risk of cancer.''

''The associations between alcohol drinking and cancer risk have been observed consistently regardless of the specific type of alcoholic beverage,'' report said.

The reason that drinking isn't entirely safe is because ethanol found in alcoholic beverages turn into a toxic chemical once broken down in the body. This new toxin, acetaldehyde, can damage DNA and proteins. Plus, alcohol can trigger oxidation in the body, which also damages DNA and proteins, in addition to making it harder to absorb nutrients.

Before this study, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already noted that cancer risk can increase even when low amounts of alcohol are consumed.

If you are going to imbibe, the CDC says it should be consumed moderately, which is up to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. These figures are the max amount that should be consumed in a day and not an average for the week.

You might however still have time to kick the bottle before it causes irreversible damage. The doctors said some studies show you could lower your risk to that of someone who has never consumed alcohol if you give it up for more than 20 years.