One or two drinks per day may boost risk of certain cancers

Women, smokers appear especially vulnerable

Light to moderate drinking of alcohol—considered up to one alcoholic drink a day for women (about 4 ounces of wine) and up to two drinks (about two 12-ounce beers) per day for men—is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in women and other alcohol-related cancers, according to a new study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers. Male smokers who were light to moderate drinkers also were found to have an increased cancer risk for alcohol-related cancers, which include colorectal, oral, liver, pharynx, larynx, and esophageal cancer.

The study was published August 18, 2015 in the BMJ.

“Our study reinforces the dietary guidelines that it is important not to go beyond one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men,” lead author Yin Cao, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition, said in an August 18, 2015 interview on

Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked with increased risk of certain cancers, but less has been known about the impact of light or moderate drinking on cancer risk. Other studies have shown health benefits of moderate drinking, including reducing heart disease and type 2 diabetes risk.

The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study that tracked the health of 88,084 women and 47,881 men for up to 30 years.

More than 19,000 women and about 7,600 men developed cancer over the three decades. In addition to drinking habits, age, ethnicity, BMI, history of cancer, smoking, physical activity, diet, and other factors were considered.

The findings also indicated that smoking may contribute to certain cancers, particularly when paired with alcohol. “For men, especially those who ever smoked, they should limit alcohol to even below the recommended limit,” Cao said in an August 18, 2015 Time interview. “And smoking and heavy alcohol consumption should be absolutely avoided to prevent cancer.”

Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, was senior author. Other Department of Nutrition authors included: Walter Willett, Eric Rimm, and Meir Stampfer.

In an accompanying BMJ editorial, Jürgen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, recommended women not exceed one standard drink a day and men should not exceed two standard drinks a day. Those with a family history of cancer “should consider reducing their intake to below recommended limits or even abstaining altogether, given the now well established link between moderate drinking and alcohol-related cancers,” Rehm said in a BMJ statement.

Read the BMJ study: Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies

Read the BMJ accompanying editorial: Light or moderate drinking is linked to alcohol related cancers, including breast cancer

Read the BMJ press release: Light to moderate drinking linked to increased risk of certain cancers in women and male smokers

Read the Time article: The Connection Between Light Drinking and Cancer: Study

Read the article: One or Two Drinks a Day Might Boost Cancer Risk: Study