Alcohol & cancer

Consuming alcohol is linked to an increased risk of six cancers.

For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol. If consumed, people should limit alcoholic drinks and follow national guidelines.

Our analysis of worldwide research shows strong evidence that consuming alcoholic drinks increases the risk of six cancers: bowel (colorectal), breast, mouth, pharynx and larynx (mouth and throat), oesophageal (squamous cell carcinoma), liver and stomach.

For liver and stomach cancer the increased risk was observed for more than three alcoholic drinks per day. For the four other cancers even low levels of drinking were associated with increased risk.

Research also shows that consuming up to two alcoholic drinks a day decreases the risk of kidney cancer; however the effects of higher levels of drinking are unclear.

Countries with highest consumption of alcoholic drinks

Worldwide consumption in 2010 was equal to 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 years or older, which is about one drink per day [1]. 

Worldwide, 62 per cent of the population had not drunk alcohol in the past year, and 14 per cent had drank alcohol earlier in life but not in the past 12 months. Almost half of the global adult population (48%) has never consumed alcohol [1].

The data for 2010 show that countries in Eastern Europe have the highest intakes (see table). The figures are averaged over the whole country and also include people who do not drink alcohol.

Table: Top countries with highest consumption alcohol in 2010 [1]

Rank Country Alcoholic drinks per day (aged 15 years or older)*
1 Belarus 3.0
2 Moldova (Republic of) 2.8
3 Lithuania 2.6
4 Russian Federation 2.5
5 Romania 2.4
6 Ukraine 2.3
6 Andorra 2.3
8 Hungary 2.2
8 Czech Republic 2.2
8 Slovakia 2.2
8 Portugal 2.2
12 Serbia 2.1
12 Grenada 2.1
12 Poland 2.1
12 Latvia 2.1
12 Finland 2.1
12 Korea (Republic of) 2.1
12 France 2.1
12 Australia 2.1
12 Croatia 2.1

* Alcoholic drinks per day were estimated from litres of pure alcohol consumed per person, per year; where 1 drink is equivalent to 13g of pure ethanol.


[1] World Health Organization Global status report on alcohol and health 2014