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This is a question often asked by patients while undergoing chemotherapy. Sometimes, patients have grown accustomed to having a glass of wine with dinner or when they meet a friend for drinks after work; but is it safe to do this while receiving cancer treatment? Most have heard about the protective effects alcohol has on the heart, but that doesn’t necessarily mean alcohol is safe for all to consume.

Did you know that alcohol increases your risk of:

  • Mouth, Pharynx, Larynx cancers
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Liver cancer

There is also other evidence on alcoholic drinks that is limited, but is suggestive, of an increased risk of lung, pancreatic and skin cancers. Further research is required before recommendations can be made.

But I can still drink wine, right?

The type of alcohol does not matter because they all contain ethanol, a known cancer causing agent. Furthermore, acetaldehyde (the metabolized form of ethanol) is the most toxic metabolite of alcohol and disrupts DNA synthesis and repair which contributes to the carcinogenic effect. Lastly, alcohol causes tissue damage, inflammation, interactions with folate, and interference with estrogen pathways.

Alcohol and Chemotherapy, do they mix?

Many of the drugs used to treat cancer are broken down by the liver. Alcohol is also processed via the liver and can cause liver inflammation. This inflammatory response could impair chemotherapy drug breakdown and increase side effects from treatment. Also, alcohol can irritate mouth sores or even make them worse. If you have mouth sores, you should avoid alcohol. It may also be a good idea to avoid alcohol if you are starting a treatment that will put you at risk for mouth sores, such as head and neck radiation or many types of chemotherapy drugs.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol is a known cancer-causing agent. It also can interfere with chemotherapy treatment or worsen mouth sores. It’s best to avoid alcohol during cancer treatment and limit consumption for overall survivorship. If consumed at all, women should have no more than 1 drink per day and men should have no more than 2 drinks per day. Keep portions controlled:
1 serving of wine = 5 oz
1 serving of beer = 12 oz
1 serving of liquor = 1 oz