Alcohol and Cancer Risk

Evidence shows that drinking any amount of alcohol increases a person’s risk of getting many cancers, including: cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum (particularly for men) and breast (both in pre- and post-menopausal women). Alcohol is also a likely cause of liver cancer.

The type of alcohol used in alcoholic beverages is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol. The cancer risk is the same regardless of the type of alcoholic drink, whether it is beer, wine, cider or spirits.1

While not drinking any alcohol is the best choice, drinking alcohol is a norm for many. In 2011, Canada adopted Low Risk Drinking Guidelines to help inform Canadians about the health risks associated with drinking alcohol and to encourage those who choose to drink alcohol to limit the amount they drink.

Cancer Care Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness support the guidelines, and want Nova Scotians to know that drinking any amount of alcohol, always has some risk.

Nova Scotia’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines
Women: 0 to 2 drinks a day, up to 10 drinks a week
Men: 0 to 3 drinks a day, up to 15 drinks a week

The Canadian Public Health Association (Fact Sheet on Drinking and Alcohol 2006) reports that a standard drink contains 13.6 g of alcohol.

Standard drinks are:

*All of the above standard drinks have the same amount of alcohol in them.

The inclusion of a zero option (no drinks a day) in these guidelines is important. There are times when even a small amount of alcohol increases health risks. We know that having as little as one alcoholic drink a day increases a person’s risk for cancer. The more a person drinks, the greater the risk.


Drinking any amount of alcohol increases a person’s risk for cancer. Yet, only 33% of Canadians know that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing several types of cancer.

If individuals choose to drink alcohol, they should follow the Canadian Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.

1 2World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

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