Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of cancer. We'll outline which cancers are linked to drinking alcohol, as well as guidelines on how to limit your intake.

Alcohol increases the risk of cancer in both men and women; the more alcohol you drink, the higher the risk.

How alcohol causes cancer

We don't fully understand the link between alcohol and cancer, but research has proven two things:

  1. Alcohol damages your DNA, which is a risk in itself.
  2. Alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories; being overweight also increases your risk of cancer.

And if you smoke when you drink, your risk increases even more.

Alcohol and cancer types

Drinking alcohol can cause the following cancers:

All types of alcohol increase your risk of cancer, even red wine (there is evidence that small amounts of red wine are good for the heart, but don't use this as an excuse to drink more than is recommended each week).

You don't have to be drunk to increase your risk of cancer, simply drinking alcohol increases your risk.

How to limit your intake

To reduce your risk of cancer, simply limit your intake. For men, that means no more than two standard drinks per day. For women, that means one standard drink per day.

A standard drink is:

  • ½ pint of beer, lager, cider or stout
  • 1 measure of spirits
  • 125 milliletres of wine (small glass)

 Diagram showing standard drink measurements

Click to view larger

Drinking more slowly is another way to limit your intake.

Some tips for slower drinking are:

  • Drink from a smaller glass instead of a pint; get a single instead of a double.
  • Put your glass down between sips.
  • Keep busy: play pool, dance or chat.
  • Try alcohol-free beers, lagers and cocktails.
  • Eat before and while you drink.
  • Avoid rounds.

Note: Links to external websites are listed below. The Irish Cancer Society is not responsible for the contents of external websites. 

Take a short test by Ask About Alcohol to see how much you’re drinking.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018