Alcohol Increases Risk of Colon Polyps, Colon Cancer



Many people like to have a drink or two to unwind after a long day. Some enjoy having a drink to welcome the weekend while others don’t need any reason at all.  

The truth is, for those of us who drink alcohol, consumption can add up quickly. We might just be drinking more than we realize – completely unaware that we are increasing our risk of cancer. The World Health Organization says as many as 25 percent of cancers worldwide may be attributable to alcohol consumption.

Unless you completely abstain from drinking, every alcoholic beverage you consume affects your cancer risk and overall health.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an opportunity to increase our understanding of alcoholism, its causes, effective treatment and recovery. Take a few moments to consider your consumption of alcohol and evaluate the role it plays in your lifestyle.

Alcohol Consumption is a Leading Risk Factor for Colon Cancer

According to a survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), 4 in 10 Americans are unaware of how alcohol affects their cancer risk. Consuming alcohol (even at low levels) increases your risk of developing several different types of cancer, including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver and rectum. Alcohol use is one of the leading risk factors for colon cancer because it increases the likelihood of polyp development in the colon lining.

How Alcohol Aids in Colon Polyp Production

When your body metabolizes alcohol, it breaks down into acetaldehyde, a carcinogen. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA in colon cells and cause mutations that increase your risk for polyps. All polyps are benign when they form, but they have the potential to become cancerous if they are not detected and removed during a colonoscopy.

How Much Alcohol is Safe

Your risk of developing alcohol-related colon cancer is driven by the total amount you consume per day. If you drink an average of three and a half drinks per day (about 50 grams of alcohol), you are increasing your risk for developing colon cancer by 50 percent compared to light drinkers or non-drinkers.  

Recently, binge drinking has become a widespread problem, especially for older women. The AICR found that 1 in 10 adults is a heavy binge drinker, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. This is defined by four drinks per day for women and five drinks per day for men, at one time (source: U.S. News Health).

The AICR recommends limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. The problem is that actual serving sizes of alcohol don't always correspond to the measurements researchers use when conducting studies.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says a standard alcoholic drink in the U.S. has 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. That's equivalent to a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. So be mindful about the volume of each alcoholic drink you consume.

If you are a heavy drinker or binge drinker, it is not too late to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor for support and resources and talk to a trusted family member or friend for accountability as you begin your journey toward better health. You can also visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website for information about alcohol support groups.

Colonoscopy Helps Prevent Colon Cancer

Currently, colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States, but it is preventable with routine colonoscopies.

A colonoscopy is the best screening method for colon cancer because it allows a gastroenterologist to view the entire colon with a lighted scope called a colonoscope. If any polyps are found during the procedure, the doctor will remove them, so they do not develop into cancer.

It’s estimated that between 60 to 90 percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone over 50 chose to have a colonoscopy, but studies show that 1 in 3 adults are not current on their screenings.

Click here to be connected with a board-certified gastroenterologist in your area. You don’t need to go to a hospital to have your procedure, either. You can schedule your colonoscopy at one of our free-standing ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs). An ASC has many benefits like a smaller environment, shorter wait times, hassle-free parking, personal service and, best of all, lower cost to you.

You may be eligible for a free screening colonoscopy. Take our Free Colonoscopy Quiz and find out more details.