Alcohol and colorectal cancer is a concern of many people. However, there is medical consensus that drinking in moderation is not a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
Alcohol (even drunk at high levels) is not a risk factor for colorectal cancer. That’s the conclusion of the National Cancer Institute, the National Library of Medicine, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
However, the American Cancer Society, the Mayo Clinic, and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance have concluded that “heavy use” or “heavy drinking” may increase the odds of the disease.
Risk factors for Colorectal Cancer
A risk factor is anything that may increase the chance of getting a disease. However, the link is not a strong one. A person may have many risk factors and never get the disease. On the other hand, a person may have no risk factors and get the disease.
There are a number of 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.
- 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 eating lots of veggies and fruits may reduce it.
- Physical inactivity.
Possible Symptoms or Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer can have any of a number of symptoms. But in its early stages, there may be no symptoms. Therefore, having regular colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50 is wise.
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.
- 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. But 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 linked with better health and longer life. That’s in comparison with either not drinking 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.
A standard alcoholic drink is a:
- 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 have the same amount of pure alcohol. That is, 0.6 (six-tenths) of an ounce.
There is no evidence that any form of alcohol gives more health benefits. So beer, wine, and spirits are equally helpful.
Resources on Drinking Alcohol and Colorectal Cancer
Alcohol and Risk of Dying from Cancer. You Might be Surprised.
How Much Alcohol Should I Drink for Health & Long Life? (12 Facts).
Alcohol and Longevity. Important Facts for Long Life.
Benefits of Drinking Outweigh Harm from Abuse.
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. 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 interesting. But this website is only for information. Thus it gives no advice about alcohol and colorectal cancer.