Can drinking alcohol increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer? Learn more about the relationship between this cancer and alcohol.

Unfortunately, there will be over 19,000 new cases of esophageal cancer in America this year (2021). Globally, esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cancer-related cause of death (2012). Here’s what to know about alcohol and esophageal cancer.

Alcohol and Esophageal Cancer

For people who have this condition or are at risk of developing it, alcohol abuse is associated with a variety of health problems. Many people are aware of the short-term effects of alcohol use, such as mood swings, impaired judgment, and loss of coordination. However, long-term alcohol use can lead to more serious complications. Frequent alcohol consumption may harm the liver, brain, or cardiovascular system.

Alcohol can increase the risk of developing specific cancers, including esophageal cancer. Researchers believe some key factors concerning alcohol use may contribute to the development of cancer:

  • The body breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical that damages DNA
  • Alcohol impairs the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients and vitamins
  • Hormone levels may be altered by alcohol
  • Alcohol may irritate the lining of the esophagus

Who Is at Risk for Esophageal Cancer?

Any level of alcohol consumption increases esophageal cancer risk. However, the more a person drinks, the higher their risk. Compared to no alcohol consumption, heavy drinking leads to a fivefold increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Several other risk factors for this cancer exist. However, having a risk factor does not mean that a person will get esophageal cancer. Some people with no risk factors may develop esophageal cancer. Some common risk factors include:

  • Male gender
  • Older age
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), also called acid reflux disease
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet

A person can reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer by making healthy decisions. These include:

  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoiding tobacco use

Limiting alcohol intake reduces cancer risk and other health-related problems. Strategies to limit alcohol intake include:

  • Starting small and cutting back gradually: Even small changes can lead to positive health benefits. Small progress may also motivate a person to cut back further.
  • Having realistic goals and track them: Know what can be realistically achieved and set goals appropriately.
  • Measuring drinks: Knowing the standard drink size can help a person accurately keep track of their drinks.
  • Drinking slowly: Sipping drinks slowly or having a non-alcoholic beverage in between slows consumption.
  • Avoiding triggers: If a certain person or place triggers excessive drinking, try to avoid it.
  • Know when to ask for help: Many people need professional guidance to cut down on alcohol consumption. There is no shame in talking with a counselor or seeking alcohol rehab.

With the appropriate tools and resources, alcohol use disorder can be managed effectively. If you or a loved one needs treatment for an alcohol use disorder, reach out to The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Nathan Jakowski
Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more

American Cancer Society. “Key Statistics for Esophageal Cancer.” January 12, 2021. Accessed July 26, 2021.

American Cancer Society. “Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors.” June 9, 2020. Accessed July 26, 2021.

American Cancer Society. “Alcohol Use and Cancer.” June 9, 2020. Accessed July 26, 2021.

NIH National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” July 14, 2021. Accessed July 26, 2021.

Liang, He et al. “Epidemiology, etiology, and prevention o[…] carcinoma in China.” Cancer biology & medicine, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.