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Is There a Connection Between Alcohol and Lung Cancer?

Medically reviewed by Todd Gersten, M.D.
Written by Marnie Willman
Posted on August 30, 2022

If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be wondering if there’s a connection between alcohol and lung cancer. For example, does alcohol consumption increase cancer risk?

Risk factors for lung cancer do go beyond tobacco smoking. In fact, in the United States, 10 percent to 20 percent of lung cancer diagnoses occur in people who never smoked or smoked very little (fewer than 100 cigarettes total). Although alcohol has been connected with certain forms of cancer, it has not been definitively associated with nonsmoking lung cancer cases.

No Known Link Between Alcohol and Lung Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, 6 percent of all cancers and 4 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to alcohol use. However, drinking isn’t linked to every type of cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that 741,000 new cancer cases worldwide in 2020 were associated with some level of alcohol consumption. Esophageal, liver, breast, and colon cancers were the top types connected with drinking, and the top eight types did not include lung cancer. Total alcohol consumption (that is, binge, heavy, or moderate drinking) and type of alcohol beverage consumed weren’t reported.

A 2018 study comparing the effect of alcohol in those consuming an average of 24 grams of alcohol, or two drinks, a day and those totaling less than 20 grams a day found no association between the higher amount and increased risk of lung cancer.

In another study, researchers concluded that there might be a lower risk of lung cancer associated with low levels of alcohol consumption (one-half to less than one drink per day). However, participants who had more than seven drinks daily, on average, did have a higher risk of adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer.

Largely, the question remains regarding whether low or moderate levels of drinking have an impact on lung cancer development.

The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Symptoms

Lung cancer or lung cancer treatment can result in:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anemia (low count of healthy red blood cells)

Alcohol can also worsen these effects, and regular or heavy intake can reduce your immune system’s ability to fight off infections and illness. If you consume a high level of alcohol while getting treatment for lung cancer, your immune system gets knocked down twice, leaving you susceptible to the above complications and general infection and illness. High alcohol use also takes a toll on the heart, liver, pancreas, and other organs.

Drinking Alcohol During Treatment

Drinking alcohol during lung cancer treatment is never advised, no matter what form of treatment you have been prescribed or are undergoing. You can talk with your oncology team about your concerns during any of your follow-up or routine appointments.

Alcohol After Lung Cancer Treatment

Prospective studies have found that those who misuse alcohol have worse long-term outcomes (higher cancer mortality) after lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. You can maximize your survival and health by limiting your alcohol consumption after your diagnosis, especially when undergoing treatment. Treatments like chemotherapy or a lobectomy can also alter your reaction and sensitivity to alcohol.

Is It OK To Drink Alcohol in Remission?

If you have a condition like lung cancer, you’ll always need to consider your diagnosis when making decisions about your lifestyle. This is true regardless of whether you’re in treatment or in remission. Some study findings link alcohol to poorer outcomes for people in remission of certain types of cancers, such as of the head and neck.

However, there is no definitive research about all types of cancer and drinking during remission. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recommends that people diagnosed with cancer avoid consuming any type of alcoholic beverage and encourages anyone in treatment or in remission to speak with their oncologist about alcohol consumption.

Support if You Want To Stop Drinking

If you’d like to stop or reduce your alcohol consumption, you can talk with your primary care provider or oncologist about resources and support. You can also seek out support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. One MyLungCancerTeam member shared, “I decided to quit drinking last year, and I will say giving up cigarettes was much more difficult than alcohol. Good luck to you.”

Each person’s path is different, but there are many means of support to help you through the process.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 7,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Are you living with lung cancer? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on August 30, 2022
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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Marnie Willman is a Ph.D. candidate in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. Learn more about her here.

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