Medical professional reviewing brain MRI results. Medical professional reviewing brain MRI results.

Can Drinking Alcohol Influence Cancer and Brain Tumor?

It is known that excessive smoking is linked to many types of cancers and brain tumors, and we keep finding more connections. Surprisingly, unlike smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol does not possess a direct risk factor for brain tumor development.While we’re sure that alcohol can cause cancer, we need more research to figure out how it is not directly connected to brain tumors. Even though alcohol might not have a direct effect on brain tumors, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that if the total alcohol consumption is too much, then it is a risk factor.

1. What is a Brain Tumor? 

When cells in the brain grow uncontrollably and in a way that’s not normal, then this abnormal cell growth is called a brain tumor. There are two main types:

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Source: Depositphotos
  • Primary Tumor: When brain cells themselves start growing and multiplying in a strange way, causing a tumor, it’s called a primary tumor.
  • Secondary Tumor: If abnormal cells from another body part spread to the brain, it’s called a secondary tumor. These are the most common types of brain tumors and usually travel through the bloodstream, and cancers from the breast, lungs, kidneys, and skin are the ones that most often spread to the brain.

2. Symptoms of Brain Tumor

The signs of a brain tumor depend on how big it is and where it is in the brain, and some tumors grow slowly and might not show any signs at first. As they get bigger, they can press on the brain and cause these signs:

Strong and lasting headaches that aren’t connected to a usual illness like migraine are often seen in people with a brain tumor. 

woman experiencing headache stress photo
By Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

The pain may be worse in the mornings and might come with feelings of nausea or vomiting. These headaches linked to a brain tumor usually get worse when you cough, exercise, or change position. Regular pain medications might not help.

Sometimes, a person who is healthy otherwise might suddenly have seizures or fits, and this can be the first sign that there’s a brain tumor.

3. Causes of Brain Tumors

We don’t fully understand what causes brain tumors yet, but there are some common things that might increase the chances of having one:

Being overweight or obese can make the risk of certain types of brain tumors go up.

Doing things like smoking and drinking too much alcohol might lead to abnormal cell growth, which can trigger a brain tumor.

hand holding cigarette smoke
By  Irina Iriser on Pexels

Being around radiation from X-rays, CT scans, power lines, nuclear plants, mobile phones, and cell phone towers over and over again may increase the risk of tumors.

Coming into contact with certain harmful chemicals like those found in diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and more could also trigger a brain tumor.

4. The Link Between Alcohol Consumption and Brain Tumors

The connection between alcohol intake and getting a brain tumor is not as direct as it is with smoking, specifically when considering moderate alcohol consumption. Drinking a lot of alcohol itself doesn’t usually directly cause brain tumors to start forming and, thus, is not statistically significant.

But, if someone has liver problems from chronic alcohol consumption, like cirrhosis, it can lead to liver tumors that might spread to the brain and cause symptoms of a brain tumor.

alcohol brain damage concept
Source: Depositphotos

Even though we don’t completely understand how alcohol affects the development of brain tumors, these are the risk factors:

  1. DNA damage and mutations: The substances produced when the body breaks down alcohol can harm the DNA and cause changes that make cells grow abnormally, and this could be a factor in the development of brain tumors.
  2. Weakening the immune system: Drinking alcohol a lot for a long time can make the immune system less effective. This means it might not be as good at finding and destroying cells that could become cancerous. This weakened defense system might increase the chance of getting a brain tumor.
  3. Nutritional deficiencies: People with reported alcohol consumption often don’t eat well and may not get enough essential nutrients. Lack of proper nutrition, especially not getting enough antioxidants and important vitamins, could contribute to the growth of brain tumors.
DNA Damage Repair Genetics Research
Source: Depositphotos

The Icy Whiz team talked to Ashley Murry, Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery, on alcohol consumption and its potential link to brain tumor development. Here is what she had to say:

Ashley Murry
Ashley Murry

“Among the many detrimental physical effects that drug & alcohol use has on the body, one of the most concerning is potentially causing cancer.

There is a consensus among The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Addiction, NIAAA, as well as other respected scientific organizations, that substance abuse can impact a person’s risk of developing several different cancers.

The World Health Organization, WHO, states that alcohol use is a factor in more than 200 diseases, cancer being one of them.    

We know that alcohol use affects the brain. That old saying about alcohol killing off brain cells was not far from the truth. Regular alcohol use can cause significant mental impairment. Over time, that adds up. 

Incidences of head and neck, liver, breast, esophageal, and colorectal cancers are all higher in individuals who consume alcohol.

Alcohol prevents the body from breaking down several nutrients our bodies need to boost our immunity to certain cancers. More research is needed to put a finer point on the whys of alcohol and cancer.

In the meantime educating patients about the increased cancer risks is important. 

When someone is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, most likely diseases like cancer are the last thing on their minds. Cancer is an important consequence of substance use that many people don’t talk about.

As physicians and therapists, the more information we can arm ourselves with in the fight against drug and alcohol abuse, the better we can educate patients.”

5. Alcohol Consumption and Cancers

Certain types of cancers are more likely in people who drink alcohol, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, throat, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, lung cancer, prostate, breast, central nervous system, and skin. If you drink a lot of alcohol, the chances of getting another cancer in the aerodigestive tract are also higher.

The risk of cancer is often higher when someone drinks a lot of alcohol, but the amount needed to increase the risk can vary depending on the type of cancer. For example, a recent study on liver cancer found that the more alcohol someone drank, the higher their risk of liver cancer compared to those who didn’t drink. 

Drinking about three alcoholic drinks a day was linked to a moderate increase in risk, while around seven drinks a day was associated with a 66 percent increase in risk. A similar pattern was seen for breast cancer risk.

However, it’s important to note that alcohol doesn’t raise the risk for all types of cancer, and in some cases, it might even be linked to a lower risk. For instance, while overall alcoholic beverage consumption is connected to an increased risk of breast cancer in women, this connection doesn’t apply to all types of breast cancer.

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Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels

In one study, the risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer was higher in women who drank alcohol. Still, the risk of triple-negative breast cancer was lower in drinkers compared to women who never consumed alcohol.

In an interview with the Icy Whiz Team, Jordan Calabrese, the Medical Director at Sana Lake Recovery Centers, warned that even the smallest bit of alcohol hurts you. Here is what he said:

Dr. Jordan Calabrese
Dr. Jordan Calabrese

“Being an addiction medicine expert and running a rehabilitation center, I’ve come across many patients who have been treated for their alcohol addiction here in our center.

And, later down the line, a few of those patients were diagnosed with brain tumors, mainly gliomas (a brain-tumor variant).

If we compare it to smoking’s cause of cancer, alcohol’s cause of tumors is not as strong.

There can be a couple of cases here and there, but smoking excessively has repeatedly caused lung cancers, and even increases the risks of heart attacks. However, the threat concerning alcohol still looms.

Alcohol makes an individual prone to cancer, mainly related to the neck and head region. Prolonged consumption of alcohol impacts the central nervous system and weakens its ability to impair DNA repair mechanisms.

Alcohol also plays a pivotal role in promoting inflammation and oxidative stress that contributes to its carcinogenic effects.

Even a drink or two of alcohol should be avoided at all costs. I’ve heard the stories of “red wine doesn’t hurt” and socially drinking doesn’t affect you, but they all do. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle without any social poison will most likely give you a better life.”

It can be concluded, based on what we have seen above, that moderate alcohol consumption is not very bad for the body, in general. But if we are considering cancer patients or, even people undergoing cancer treatment, or other such people with some chronic conditions, then alcohol abuse is not a good idea. 

Based on studies and further research, consumption has been linked with various body factors and indices, but it is still not as bad as cigarette smoking. Heavy drinkers should take care of their caloric intake and try to move towards occasional drinking to reduce alcohol’s impact. 

It is not a causal factor for brain tumors, but combined with other risk factors, it can become dangerous. 

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on April 23, 2024 by soubhik

Author

Anushree Khandelwal
  1. Personally, I don’t consume alcohol, but I believe I can use this information to help individuals facing similar circumstances. From my understanding, moderate alcohol consumption may not have significant harm to the body. However, for people with cancer it seems like a good idea to avoid alcohol. It was amazing to learn not only about brain tumors but also the potential impact of alcohol on brain tumor symptoms.

  2. Thanks for this article. It made understanding the link between alcohol and brain tumors so much easier. Even for a non-expert like me, the information was clear and useful. Learning about the impact of alcohol on brain tumor symptoms was particularly enlightening. Great job simplifying complex topics!

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