Drinking alcohol 'increases your risk of 11 cancers’ – x red-flag signs you need to know

DRINKING alcohol increases your risk of 11 different cancers, according to a study – more than previously thought.

When alcohol is broken down, chemicals can bind to DNA, resulting in mutations which could become cancerous, according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

It can also increase the levels of the hormones linked to the development of some types of breast cancer.

WCRF funded the study, led by Imperial College London, that looked at data from 860 reviews of published studies.

It concluded that alcohol consumption is tied to cancers of at 11 sites – the head and neck, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver, gallbladder, lungs, skin, kidney, bladder and breast.

The study, published in Nature Communications, also found drinking coffee could lower risk of developing liver cancer and basal cell carcinoma of the skin.

This is thought to be because coffee has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dr Giota Mitrou, Director of Research and Innovation, WCRF said: “This umbrella review confirms the evidence we have for alcohol and coffee in relation to cancer. 

“As always, we continue to encourage limiting alcohol intake as part of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations which include being a healthy weight, being physically active and enjoying a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses.”

Drinking too much is not only linked to cancer, but heart disease, stroke, and pancreatitis.

And that’s before considering the impact on someone's life, such as losing their job or falling out with family.

Nation of drinkers

According to NHS Digital, 65 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women in the UK had drunk alcohol in the last week. 

Most commonly, men and women in mid-age between 55 and 64 are drinking more than they should.

Rich people are the more likely to be going over their recommended limit compared to those in the most deprived areas (17 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men).

The Covid pandemic and its isolating lockdowns has driven millions to the bottle, various studies have shown.

Alcohol charity Drink­aware found in August 2020 that 22 per cent of over-18s — 11.7million people — upped their intake of booze since Covid, with the most common reason being boredom.

It rocketed to 38 per cent of those on furlough and 33 per cent of parents with at least one child under 18.

Even though life is largely returning to normal, the charity said it was worried new drinking habits would “become ingrained and hard to break”.

Similarly, The Royal College of Psychiatrists found the number of “high risk drinkers” nearly doubled  from 4.2 million pre-Covid, to 8.4 million in June 2020.

These people could be worsening their odds of a devastating cancer diagnosis in the future, the latest study confirms.

Are you drinking too much?

Ideally, to protect your health, no alcohol at all would be the best option.

But most Brits enjoy a drink, and that’s why the UK’s top doctors admit it’s generally safe to drink 14 units over a week.

That's the equivalent of six pints or medium glasses of wine. Most people have no idea what 14 units actually looks like. 

Alcohol Change UK has a unit calculator that asks you how many drinks – from wine, beer and spirits – you drink in a typical week. 

It then tells you how many units you’re consuming. 

As well as this, Drinkaware have a tool online that asks you questions based on your habits.

Questions include “how often do you feel you can’t stop drinking”, and “how often do you have you lost memory due to drinking”.

Signs you may be boozing a bit more than safe, according to the NHS, include:

  1. you feel you should cut down on your drinking
  2. other people have been criticising your drinking
  3. you feel guilty or bad about your drinking
  4. you need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover
  5. you are unable to remember what happened the night before
  6. you fail to do what is expected of you the next day, such as work or going to an appointment 

This could develop into an alcohol use disorder. The signs of this in you, or a loved one, include:

  1. you worry about where your next drink is coming from and plan social, family and work events around alcohol
  2. you find you have a compulsive need to drink and it is hard to stop once you start
  3. you wake up and drink alcohol or feel the need to
  4. you suffer feelings of anxiety, alcohol-related depression and suicidal feelings
  5. you suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol
  6. you have a lack of interest in previously normal activities 
  7. you need to drink more in order to achieve the same effects 
  8. you feel tired, unwell or irritable
  9. youbecome secretive or dishonest

Take this test to find out if you drink too much.

Signs of cancer

There are over 200 different types of cancer that can cause many different symptoms.

But generally, you should get a check-up if you have any of the following:

  1. Unexplained pain or ache

Pain is one way our bodies tell us that something is wrong. As we get older, it‘s more common to experience aches and pains. But unexplained pain could be a sign of something more serious.

2. Very heavy night sweats

Sweating at night can be caused by infections or it can be a side effect of certain medications. It’s also often experienced by women around the time of the menopause. But very heavy, drenching night sweats can also be a sign of cancer.

3. Unexplained weight loss

Small weight changes over time are quite normal, but if you lose a noticeable amount of weight without trying to, tell your doctor.

4. Unusual lump or swelling anywhere

Persistent lumps or swelling in any part of your body should be taken seriously. That includes any lumps in the neck, armpit, stomach, groin, chest, breast or testicle.

5. Fatigue

If you’re feeling tired for no clear reason, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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