Alcohol and cancer

Learn about alcohol intake and relative risks of cancer

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as carcinogenic to humans. There is strong evidence to support a causal link between alcohol and cancer at seven sites in the body: oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum.

Relative risks by cancer type and alcohol intake

The graph shows the risk of oral, pharynx and esophageal squamous and other cancers for light, moderate and heavy drinkers
The above table is adapted from American Society of Clinical Oncology and results of Bagnardi et al (2015).

For the types of cancers shown in the diagram, risk is directly related to dose. For breast and colorectal cancers, which have lower relative risks compared to other cancer sites, the higher incidence rates of these cancers in Canada contributes to larger population-level impact.

Alcohol consumption in Canada is on the rise, due in large part to a lack of awareness of health risks (including cancer risk) and increasing access and availability of alcohol products. Strategies to reduce alcohol-related harms have traditionally taken an educational approach focused on ‘excessive’ alcohol consumption. Implementing effective policies that build on existing alcohol policy strategies and previous experiences in tobacco control will support reductions in alcohol consumption and cancer risk in Canada.