Alcohol is a recognised carcinogen – it is known to increase the risk of several different types of cancer.

This is based on assessments from the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monograph Working Group, which is a group of expert scientists who review published studies and evaluate the evidence that alcohol increases the risk of cancer. In 2007, alcohol was estimated to account for 4% of all cancer deaths in people aged under 80 years in New Zealand.10,29,70,86

Alcohol increases the risk of developing cancers of:

  • mouth, throat and voicebox
  • oesophagus (food pipe)
  • large bowel and rectum
  • breast (in women)
  • liver.

The risk of developing cancer increases with a higher use of alcohol. For example, the evidence suggests that the risk of breast cancer for women increases by around 7-10 percent per standard drink per day.87 

In contrast, there is evidence that use of alcohol does not cause cancer of the kidney or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph cells).

Awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer is low in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In a survey of 1000 New Zealanders only 9% mentioned drinking alcohol as a potential risk factor for breast cancer or bowel cancer.

When specifically asked about the risk posed by drinking more than 1 alcoholic drink per day, 14% said this amount of alcohol would not increase the risk of breast cancer and 8% said this amount of alcohol would not increase the risk of bowel cancer. A further 1 in 5 people did not know if this amount of alcohol would increase the risk of breast (22%) or bowel cancer (17%).88