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Limiting Alcohol Consumption During Cancer Treatment May Improve Health, Lessen Risk for Additional Diagnoses

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Patients who limit alcohol intake during their cancer treatment may experience several health benefits, according to physicians from Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology.

As alcohol consumption has been linked to cancer risk, patients who already have cancer may wonder whether cutting down on the substance could also benefit their health during or after cancer treatments. According to several physician experts from Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology (TBRO), decreasing alcohol intake could be beneficial to patients in a variety of ways.

“Limiting your alcohol consumption can make a huge difference to your physical and mental health. Abstaining even briefly can lead to better sleep, improvements in insulin resistance and lowered blood pressure. Patients also report fewer food cravings and a clearer mind,” said physician experts from TBRO in an interview with CURE®.

In terms of its direct association to cancer risk, it was reported in The Lancet this past summer that over 700,000 new cancer cases worldwide in 2020 were attributed to alcohol usage.

The most common cancer types associated with alcohol consumption, according to the study results, were esophagus, liver and breast cancers. Heavy drinking was more likely to be associated with cancer cases than moderate drinking. However, even low and moderate consumption may still increase the risk.

“Alcohol contains ethanol, which breaks down into a carcinogen called acetaldehyde,” the experts from TBRO explained. “This substance can lead to irreversible DNA damage and is strongly linked to bowel, liver, breast and esophageal cancers. Alcohol also impacts how the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes, essentially depriving your body of important nutrients including vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K.”

Another study, published in BMC Public Health, highlighted the need for more awareness and education around alcohol and the associated cancer risk. Research conducted at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair found that awareness depended on cancer type, with only 38% of surveyed individuals being aware that breast cancer and alcohol consumption were associated, while 92% knew of its liver cancer risk. Additionally, only 51% of respondents knew there was a link between alcohol and laryngeal cancer and 66% for colon/rectal and mouth/throat cancers.

While limiting alcohol may improve mental well-being and lower the chances of associated cancer risks, it may also benefit an individual’s current health status.

“Limiting alcohol intake can help control a patient’s weight,” said the experts at TBRO. “Alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain for a number of reasons, starting with the way it stops the body from burning fat. Weight has a strong association with cancer. In fact, there are at least 13 cancers with a clear link to obesity.”

For those currently undergoing treatment for cancer, they may want to be wary of consuming any alcohol at all, urged the experts.

“If you’re currently undergoing cancer treatment, alcohol may be interacting with the medications you’re taking,” they explained. “While it may seem safe, any level of alcohol consumption may impact normal body function and lead to complications.”

While some may worry about whether they’re able to fully abstain from drinking alcohol, the experts stressed that the important thing is to take small steps.

“The idea is to consciously drink less, even if you don’t give up alcohol altogether. Heavy drinking is the most damaging to a patient’s health,” they advised. “The first step is to think of the long-term benefits. In particular, because the liver can repair itself, abstaining from alcohol allows the liver to heal.”

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