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Alcohol consumption is linked with multiple types of cancer, such as colorectal, liver, breast, and head and neck. It is also associated with adverse health outcomes among cancer patients and survivors, including higher risks of recurrence or onset of secondary cancers. It is why nutrition and physical activity guidelines provided by the American Cancer Society suggest it is best not to start drinking alcohol, and for those who already drink, that they limit alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

But a new study suggests alcohol consumption and risky drinking behavior are common among cancer patients and survivors. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis surveyed 15,199 adults with a cancer diagnosis who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. Their results showed:

  • 77.7% self-reported as current drinkers
  • 13% exceeded moderate drinking (two or more drinks a day)
  • 23.8% reported binge drinking (six or more drinks on one occasion)
  • 38.3% engaged in hazardous drinking (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score of ≥3 for women or ≥4 for men)

The researchers also noted that among the 1,839 participants who were in active cancer treatment, the prevalence of drinking and risky consumption was similar to the overall results.

headshot of Dr. Christine Vinci

Dr. Christine Vinci, Health Outcomes & Behavior Department

“Fortunately, as cancer treatments become more effective, cancer survivors live longer and often lead very productive lives. As such, research focused on modifiable risk factors, such as alcohol use, are needed to understand its impact on cancer survivors’ health outcomes,” said Dr. Christine Vinci, a researcher in the Department of Health Outcomes & Behavior at Moffitt Cancer Center. “As discussed in this article, alcohol use is associated with various poor outcomes among cancer patients, and future research is needed to understand what groups may be most impacted by alcohol use. Additionally, programs addressing how to best modify alcohol use during cancer treatment are needed to support current patients and survivors in their efforts to reduce or stop drinking.”  

Vinci added it is important for physicians to speak to their patients about alcohol consumption and the risks associated with alcohol use during and after cancer therapy.