Alcohol Consumption and Cancer in Women

The Million Women Study (2009) looked at the association between alcohol consumption and the incidence of various cancers in middle-aged women in the United Kingdom.

Here’s the conclusion from the abstract in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute:

Low to moderate alcohol consumption in women increases the risk of certain cancers. For every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the increase in incidence up to age 75 years per 1000 for women in developed countries is estimated to be about 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancer of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the esophagus, larynx and liver, giving a total excess of about15 cancers per 1000 women up to age 75.

Other cancers seemed to be reduced by increasing levels of alcohol consumption: thyroid, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, renal cell carcinoma.

Comparing wine with other alcohol types, no differences in cancer risks were found.

Low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with prolonged life, lesser risk of dementia, and lower rates of cardiovascular disease. The article abstract doesn’t mention these issues, nor the possibility that the benefits of judicious alcohol consumption may outweigh the cancer risks. 

Steve Parker, M.D.


Allen, Naomi, et al. Moderate Alcohol Intake and Cancer Incidence in Women. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 101 (2009): 296-305.

Lauer, Michael and Sorlie, Paul. Alcohol, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: Treat With Caution. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 101 (2009): 282-283.

Szwarc, Sandy. In Vino Veritas – Part Two. Junkfood Science blog, March 1, 2009. Accessed March 10, 2009. A quote from Ms. Szwarc regarding the Million Women Study:

The bottom line is that scary claims that “there is no level of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe,” simply was not supported by the data. This study actually found no credible link between alcohol consumption and cancers at all. Or, if you want to split hairs and believe the small computed numbers, it found that the lowest risk for cancers was associated with women drinking up to 1-2 drinks a day.

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