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Home Cancer prevention Recommendations Alcohol and cancer prevention

Alcohol and cancer prevention

If consumed at all, alcoholic drinks should be limited to two for men and one for women a day.

For cancer prevention, we recommend not drinking alcohol at all.

What is a ‘drink’?

As a rough guide, a drink contains about 10-15g of pure alcohol, so one drink is the same as:

  • half a pint of normal strength (3-5% ABV*) beer, lager or cider
  • one 25ml measure of spirits (40% ABV*), such as vodka or whisky
  • one small 125ml glass of wine (12-13% ABV*)

This information is useful as a guide, but be aware that in recent years both the serving size and strength of some alcoholic drinks have increased, making it easy to drink more alcohol than we realise.

Alcohol and cancer - the evidence

Related publications:

A Closer Look at: Alcohol

There is good scientific evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks are a cause of a number of cancers. In particular, there is strong evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the:

Alcohol also probably increases the risk of liver cancer as well as bowel cancer (in women).

Scientists are still researching how alcohol can lead to cancer. One theory is that alcohol can directly damage our DNA, increasing our risk of cancer.

Some evidence suggests that small amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on heart disease, but the benefits only outweigh the risks in those particularly at risk of heart disease, such as men aged over 40 or postmenopausal women.

Research shows that alcohol is particularly harmful when combined with smoking.

Alcohol and weight

Alcoholic drinks offer little, if any, nutritional benefit and can be surprisingly high in calories. Cutting down on the amount you drink could play an important role in helping you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and in turn help to further reduce your cancer risk.

So, cutting down on the amount you drink could play an important role in helping you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and in turn help to further reduce your cancer risk.

Try our handy alcohol calorie calculator, which shows how many calories are in different alcoholic drinks, to see how alcohol can add to your calorie intake.

Tips for reducing your alcohol intake

  • Opt for the smallest serving size. Avoid double measures of spirits, which are often encouraged as ‘better value’.
  • Dilute alcoholic drinks, or opt for low-calorie or low-alcohol alternatives. For example, opt for a white wine spritzer rather than a full glass of wine.
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Aim to keep a few nights each week alcohol-free.

Read all our Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

Alcohol and cancer

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Page last reviewed: January 2013
Page next due for review: January 2015
The information on this page is based on the findings of our Expert Report and is covered by the Information Standard.

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