This Super Common Habit Has a Bigger Impact on Cancer Risk Than You Probably Realize, According to Oncologists

Woman at a medical appointment

You may want to stick to mocktails on your next night out because drinking alcohol is linked to several different cancers—and one country is doing something to raise awareness of that.

Ireland is joining South Korea to become the only two countries requiring cancer warning labels on alcohol products, with Ireland becoming the first country to also mandate other comprehensive health warning labels.

Related: How Alcohol Impacts Your Heart Rate

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, beginning in May 2026, all alcohol products sold in Ireland will be required to include the cancer warning label, plus warnings about alcohol causing liver disease, warnings against drinking alcohol while pregnant and calorie information for the product. The labels will also direct consumers to a website detailing the harms of alcohol use and abuse.

The news comes less than a month after a study linked alcohol use to increased risk of heart disease.

While alcohol's impact on pregnancy and causal relationship to liver damage have both been well-documented—as have the risks of drinking and driving—alcohol's links to cancers have largely flown under the radar by comparison.

"Studies show that the majority of Americans are not aware of the association of alcohol consumption and cancer. Clearly, more education is needed," Jamie L. Koprivnikar, MD, board-certified medical oncologist, internist and hematologist at Hackensack Meridian Medical Center tells Parade. "Labels will help, but it is also incumbent upon healthcare providers to have an open and honest dialogue regarding alcohol consumption with their patients."

Related: How Long Does Alcohol Stay In the Body?

A study in The Lancet reported in 2020 that alcohol was linked to 4% of all new cancer diagnoses worldwide (which may not sound like a lot on its face, but is actually about 740,000) cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long advised that drinking increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers, larynx cancer, esophageal cancer and colorectal cancer, and that drinking three or more alcoholic beverages daily has been linked to an increased risk of stomach and pancreatic cancers.

It may be especially dangerous for those assigned female at birth to imbibe compared to those assigned male at birth as some studies have also shown a link between alcohol use and increased breast cancer risk.

"Even though alcohol use is common societally, drinking alcohol increases exposure to carcinogens associated with breast cancer," Dr. Toma Omofoye, MD, breast imaging radiologist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells us. And if you think the antioxidants in red wine will cancel out the alcohol content, sorry: Dr. Omofoye adds, "Research so far has not identified any kinds of alcohol as being safer than others."

Related: How Alcohol Impacts Your Brain Health

According to the CDC, the cancer risk essentially comes from how human bodies process alcohol, breaking it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA beyond repair. Because DNA controls cell growth, damage to DNA can cause the growth of abnormal cells, resulting in tumors.

And if you thought that the occasional glass of wine with dinner was healthy (and genuinely, who could blame you, seeing as studies claiming that wine's antioxidants were healthy were quite widely publicized?), we have bad news there, too.

"These earlier studies were flawed and more recent research has revealed that there is no cardiovascular benefit associated with alcohol," Dr. Koprivnikar says. "As little as one serving of alcohol per day can increase an individual’s risk for conditions such as high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythm."

So how much booze is healthy and won't put you at a higher risk for cancer? Sorry, but time to rip off the band-aid: According to Dr. Koprivnikar, "No safe amount of alcohol consumption for cancers can be established."

Next, Find Out What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Drinking Alcohol