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Alcohol & Cancer Risk: What do I need to know?

By Heather Knutson, MS, RD, CSO, LD January 3, 2024Nutrition Education Services Center Blog

There is a lot of confusing information circulating in the media and on the internet about alcohol intake. It can be challenging to know what to do. Let’s answer some questions by looking at the evidence so you can make the best decision for you!

Is alcohol ever helpful for cancer?

No. It is important to acknowledge that all types of alcohol, even red wine, can increase cancer risk.1 Potential identified benefits (such as resveratrol, the commonly discussed antioxidant in red wine) are outweighed by the increased risk of cancer from the alcohol itself.

Abstaining from alcohol is best for cancer prevention. There is evidence that alcohol consumption can increase cancer risk for the following cancer types2:

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Esophageal
  • Liver
  • Stomach
  • Mouth
  • Pharynx
  • Larynx

If I do choose to drink, how much alcohol is okay to consume? 

Moderation is key! This is defined as limiting alcohol consumption to one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men. (Note that you can’t save up drinks for the weekend.1) One drink is measured by total amount of alcohol in the beverage and is equal to 14 grams of alcohol. This is measured as3:

  • 12 oz of regular beer at around 5% ABV (alcohol by volume)
  • 5 oz of wine at around 12% ABV
  • 5 oz of 80 proof distilled spirits
  • 8-10 oz malt liquor, such as hard seltzer

If you are receiving cancer treatment or taking any medications, discuss alcohol with your doctor. Alcohol can interact with some medications and may make side effects, such as mouth sores, worse.

Is it helpful to cut back on alcohol intake?

Yes! Reducing alcohol intake from what you are currently consuming can decrease your cancer risk. Wherever your relationship with alcohol may be, consuming less is helpful. If you would like to reduce your intake of alcohol, consider:

  • Being selective about when you decide to consume alcohol
  • When is it truly important in your life for you to include alcohol
  • Selecting beverages with a lower alcohol content
  • Aiming for some alcohol-free days each week
  • Exploring different alcohol-free social activities like as playing pickle ball or going to a poetry reading
  • Participating in Dry January4, a movement encouraging abstaining from alcohol for the month of January

What are other options to drink in social situations if I don’t want to drink?

Avoiding alcohol is anything but boring! There are so many great options for alcohol free beverages leaving you hangover free, such as:

  • Non-alcoholic wines, beers, and liquors: Many craft liquor brands are following the trend of creating products that taste similar in quality to their alcoholic counterparts.
  • Mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails): These are available at most establishments that serve alcohol. Limit mocktails that are high in added sugar. You can also search online for lower-sugar, easy-to-prepare mocktail recipes.
  • Easy drinks made fancy: Try kombucha or some club soda with a splash of your favorite juice. Serve in a fancy glass with a slice of lime to garnish!

The bottom line?

The less you drink, the lower your risk for cancer. If you do drink alcohol, aim to limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink for women and two drinks per day for men. If you’re intrigued by Dry January or curious about mocktails, give it a try! You may just learn something about yourself and reap the health benefits too4.

For those who are currently receiving cancer treatment, please talk with your doctor about the safety and the possible risks of consuming alcohol during your specific cancer treatment.

If you are concerned about your current relationship with alcohol or feel that it may be unhealthy for you, please reach out to your doctor to discuss a plan appropriate for you. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP (4357). The free, confidential helpline provides information for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance abuse disorders.

Through LLS’s Nutrition Education Services Center patients and caregivers of all cancer types can receive a free nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian who has expertise in oncology nutrition.

Additional Resources for Decreasing Cancer Risk:



  1. American Institute for Cancer Research. (2023). AICR Food Facts: Alcohol.
  2. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Continuous Update Project 2018.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What is a Standard Drink.
  4. Alcohol Change UK. Dry January.
Heather Knutson, MS, RD, CSO, LD

Author Heather Knutson, MS, RD, CSO, LD

Heather Knutson, MS, RD, CSO, LD, a Minnesota native, is board-certified on oncology nutrition and has enjoyed working in oncology for over a decade. Heather earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics from the University of North Dakota and her Master’s Degree from Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago. She is an advocate for personalized care and feels honored to be invited into the lives of her clients during their personal journey with cancer. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her husband, two sons, her cat Kevin and her dog Russell. She is passionate about triathlons and vegan culinary delights and is always open to new adventures!

More posts by Heather Knutson, MS, RD, CSO, LD

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