Alcohol and Cancer

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer including cancers of the mouth and throat, oesophagus, stomach, liver and bowel. It's not just heavy drinking – even small amounts of alcohol increases risk, but the more you drink, the greater the risk. There's no evidence that alcohol helps protect you from any type of cancer.

Drinking alcohol is known to cause cancer.  Even in moderate amounts, drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophagus, stomach, liver and bowel, in men.

It doesn't matter what type of alcohol you drink, your cancer risk is the same for all types of alcohol whether it's beer, wine, cider or spirits. There's no conclusive evidence that alcohol helps protect you from any type of cancer.

The combined effects of smoking and alcohol also greatly increase the risk of cancer, more so than from either of these factors alone. Up to 75 per cent of cancers of the upper airway and digestive tract can be related to alcohol plus smoking.


What can I do to reduce my risk?

To reduce your risk of cancer, if you don't drink, don't start. If you choose to drink:

  • limit your intake – Cancer Council recommends that you drink only within the national guideline for low-risk alcohol consumption, which is no more than two standard drinks a day
  • avoid binge drinking – don't 'save' your drinks using alcohol-free days, only to consume them in one session
  • have at least two alcohol-free days every week
  • choose low-alcohol drinks
  • eat some food when you drink.


What is a standard drink? 

A standard drink equals:

  • 285 ml of beer (one glass of beer)
  • 100 ml of wine (one small glass of wine)
  • 30 ml of spirits (one measure of spirits)


It can sometimes be difficult to estimate standard drinks in real life situations because:

  • glass sizes vary and measurements are not printed on glasses so it can be hard to judge
  • people share drinks e.g. jugs, casks, bottles of alcohol
  • glasses are topped up by other people
  • composition of mixed drinks is not known.


If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.


For more tips and tools to help you limit alcohol, visit Cut Your Cancer Risk

Two brothers chatting

David’s brother (age 49) is trying to quit smoking to reduce his risk of lung cancer. He also drinks regularly which increases his risk of other cancers.