Does Drinking Wine Cause Cancer?
I enjoy a glass of wine most days, but I’ve heard that it presents the same cancer risk as smoking. Is this really true?
Andrew Weil, M.D. | May 3, 2019
A study from the UK published in March (2019) found that drinking a bottle of wine per week presents the same risk of cancer as smoking five to 10 cigarettes per week. According to the study’s corresponding author, Theresa J. Hydes of the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, the intent was to determine “purely in terms of cancer risk – …how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine.” The study showed that the equivalent is five cigarettes for men and 10 for women.
The investigators hoped to draw public attention to the fact that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol – such as a bottle of wine per week – can increase the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer. Men are at greater risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. In non-smoking men, drinking one bottle of wine weekly increases the lifetime risk of cancer by one percent. For women it adds up to 1.4 percent.
The study also showed that drinking three bottles of wine per week (approximately a half a bottle daily) is linked to an absolute increase of lifetime cancer risk for men of 1.9 percent and in women, 3.6 percent meaning that an additional 19 of 1,000 men would develop cancer as would 36 of 1,000 women. That increase would be equivalent to the risk posed by smoking about eight cigarettes per week for men and 23 cigarettes per week for women.
Dr. Hydes said that the study did not determine that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. “Our (findings) relate to lifetime risk across the population. At an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary.” She added that for many people the impact of one bottle of wine or five to 10 cigarettes may be very different. We have known that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, bowel, liver and breast. The study didn’t take into account any other health risks posed by smoking or drinking alcohol, such as cardiovascular, respiratory or liver disease.
Many people in the U.S. as well as the UK are unaware of the cancer risk posed by drinking alcohol. In November 2017 the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), an organization of the nation’s leading cancer specialists, released results of a survey of 4,016 Americans showing that fewer than one in three were aware of it. ASCO made the point that drinkers face higher risks than nondrinkers for developing cancers of the throat, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon. The more you drink and the longer you’ve been drinking, the higher your risk, especially of head and neck cancers.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Theresa J. Hydes et al, “A comparison of gender-linked population cancer risks between alcohol and tobacco: how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine?” BMC Public Health, March 28, 2019 doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6576-9