Alcohol and colorectal cancer risk is a concern of many people. However, there is medical consensus that drinking in moderation is not a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
The National Cancer Institute, the National Library of Medicine, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Cancer Research have concluded that alcohol (even consumed at high levels) is not a risk factor.
Risk factors for Colorectal Cancer
A risk factor is anything that may increase the chance of developing a disease. However, the relationship is not a strong one. A person may have many risk factors and never develop the disease. On the other hand, a person may have no risk factors and get the disease.
There are a number of commonly identified risk factors for colorectal cancer:
- Age. The average at diagnosis is 72.
- History of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
- History of ulcerative colitis or of Crohn’s disease.
- Family history of colorectal cancer.
- Inherited syndromes. Especially common are FAP and HNPCC. Others are Turcot syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome:
- Race. African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are at higher risk.
- Diet. Eating lots of red meats, processed meats and animal fat may increase risk. But consuming lots of vegetables and fruits may reduce it.
- Physical inactivity.
Possible Symptoms or Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer can have any of a number of symptoms. However, in its early stages, there may be no symptoms. Therefore, having regular colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50 is important.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include any of the following:
- A change in bowel habits. It may be constipation, diarrhea, or alternating constipation and diarrhea. Or a change in stool consistency for over two weeks.
- Stools that are thinner than usual.
- Rectal bleeding or dark blood. Or stool that is black.
- Persistent abdominal pain or discomfort.
- A sensation that the bowels can’t be emptied completely.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Loss of appette.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Unexplained fatigue.
- Jaundice (yellow skin color).
Having any of these symptoms does not mean that a person has colorectal cancer. However, they should be discussed with a doctor.
Drinking in Moderation is Beneficial
Drinking alcohol in moderation is not a risk factor for developing colorectal cancer. However, moderate drinking is clearly associated with better health and greater longevity. That’s in comparison with either abstaining from alcohol or drinking heavily.
Drinking in moderation has been described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For a man it’s having four standard drinks on any day and an average of 14 drinks per week. For a woman, it’s three drinks in any one day and an average of seven drinks per week.
- 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
- Five-ounce glass of dinner wine
- One shot (1.5 ounces) of spirits (whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, rum, etc.)
Standard drinks contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. Specifically, it’s 0.6 (six-tenths) of an ounce of pure alcohol.
There is no evidence that any particular alcoholic beverage gives more health benefits. That is, beer, wine, and spirits are equally helpful.
Resources on Drinking Alcohol and Colorectal Cancer
Feuerstein, M. Handbook of Cancer Survivorship. Cham, Swit: Springer, 2018.
Hoffman, B. A Cancer Survivor’s Almanac: Charting Your Journey. NY: Wiley, 2004.
Katz, A. This Should Not be Happening. Young Adults with Cancer. Pittsburgh: Hygenia, 2014.
Marshall, J. Surviving Cancer as a Family. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010.
Ong, T., et al. Nutrition and Cancer Prevention. Dietary Recommendations. Cambridge: RSC, 2020.
Silver, J. What Helped Get Me Through. Cancer Survivors Share Wisdom and Hope. Atlanta: ACS, 2009.
Visel, D. Living with Cancer. A Practical Guide. New Brunswick: RU Press, 2008.
You might also find Drinking and Stomach Cancer Risk of interest. However, this website is for information only. Thus it makes no suggestions about alcohol and colorectal cancer risk. Nor about alcohol and stomach cancer.