A recent study indicated heavy drinking has increased more than 17 percent in many parts of the U.S. since 2005, with rates rising faster among women. So in honoring Oral Cancer Awareness Month this year, we compiled a few commonly asked questions to help explain the connection between alcohol and oral cancer.

What evidence is there that alcohol contributes to oral cancer?

Alcohol is a major risk factor in particular for cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx. In fact, people who drink roughly 3.5 or more drinks a day have a two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than nondrinkers. The National Cancer Institute reveals that "the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer." (1)

How does alcohol increase the risk of oral cancer?

The way our body interacts with alcohol is key to understanding the connection to cancer. Basically, alcohol is broken down in our liver as well as in our mouth and is converted to acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic to our body. It can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage. Alcohol also impairs the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients associated with cancer risk. (1)

How much alcohol does it take to increase the risk of cancer?

It’s impossible to set a definite amount that would increase the risk, but staying within government guidelines helps reduce it. What’s more, whether it’s consumed as binging or more spread out makes no difference. The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 defines moderate alcohol drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. (2)

Find out more about the alcohol cancer connection at cancer.gov. And if this information helps you in any way, we would love to know!

1 - "Alcohol and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet" - National Cancer Institute

2 - "How Alcohol Causes Cancer" - Cancer Research UK