The risk of alcohol-related cancer is increased even with light to moderate drinking in women, according to a study published in The BMJ.

Yin Cao, Ph.D., from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues quantified risk of overall cancer across all levels of alcohol consumption.

Data were included for 88,084 women and 47,881 men participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

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The researchers found that for women, light to moderate drinkers versus non-drinkers had relative risks of 1.02 (95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.98 to 1.06) and 1.04 (95 percent CI, 1.00 to 1.09; Ptrend = 0.12), respectively, for alcohol intake of 0.1 to 4.9 and 5 to 14.9 g/day.

For men, the relative risks were 1.03 (95 percent CI, 0.96 to 1.11), 1.05 (95 percent CI, 0.97 to 1.12), and 1.06 (95 percent CI, 0.98 to 1.15; Ptrend = 0.31) for alcohol intake of 0.1 to 4.9, 5 to 14.9, and 15 to 29.9 g/day, respectively.

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For men, the risk of a priori defined alcohol-related cancers was not appreciably increased for light or moderate drinkers who never smoked.

Even alcohol consumption of 5 to 14.9 g/day correlated with increased risk of alcohol-related cancer for women (relative risk, 1.13), driven by breast cancer.

“Light to moderate drinking is associated with minimally increased risk of overall cancer,” the authors write.


  1. Cao Y, Willett WC, Rimm EB, et al. Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies. The BMJ. 2015. doi: