Alcoholic drinks and cancer risk

Alcoholic drinksWe analyse global research on how consuming alcoholic drinks affects the risk of developing cancer.


There is strong evidence that consuming:

alcoholic drinks INCREASES the risk of

two or more alcoholic drinks a day (30 grams or more) INCREASES the risk of

three or more alcoholic drinks a day (45 grams or more) INCREASES the risk of

up to two alcoholic drinks a day (up to 30 grams) DECREASES the risk of

Cancer Prevention Recommendation

> For cancer prevention it’s best not to drink alcohol

There is also other evidence on alcoholic drinks that is limited (either in amount or by methodological flaws), but is suggestive of an increased risk of lungpancreatic and skin cancers. Further research is required, and the Panel has not used this evidence to make recommendations.

Consumption of alcohol

Alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, including cirrhosis, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease, early dementia and cancer.

Worldwide consumption of alcoholic drinks in 2016 was equal to 6.4 litres of pure alcohol (ethanol) per person aged 15 years or older, which is equivalent to about one alcoholic drink per day. However, consumption varies widely.

In many countries, alcohol consumption is a public health problem. Alcohol consumption is expected to continue to rise in half of the World Health Organization (WHO) regions unless effective policy reverses the trend.

Does the type of alcoholic drink matter?

The Panel judges that alcoholic drinks are a cause of various cancers, irrespective of the type of alcoholic drink consumed. This is because all alcohol contains ethanol and ethanol is the cancer causing compound.

The extent to which alcoholic drinks are a cause of various cancers depends on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed.

Mechanisms: the biology linking alcoholic drinks with cancer

> Read more about the cancer process

Emerging research

We fund research on how diet affects cancer risk through our regular grant programme. Read about the latest findings and ongoing projects here.

Diet and Cancer Report 2018

In 2018, we produced the Diet and Cancer Report, the third in our series of major reports looking at the many ways in which our diets, and how active we are, affect our cancer risk. You can find out much more about alcoholic drinks and the risk of cancer by downloading a pdf of the relevant chapter in the 2018 report. Please note, however, that this webpage may have been updated since the report was published.