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Don't shoot the messenger, but drinking alcohol causes cancer
Research shows that even a drink a day increases the risk. - photo by David Snell
It's official: Alcohol causes cancer.

That's what a study by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) says. In a recent episode of Good Morning America, Dr. Jennifer Ashton said "this is really the first time that the country's top group of top cancer doctors issued this statement really to increase awareness about the fact that we know alcohol is a carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer."

But here's the real news

The fact that alcohol consumption increases the chance of a cancer diagnosis does not come as a surprise to the medical world. The knowledge has been available for years, but awareness has remained relatively low.

For instance, check out this clip from Good Morning America from way back in 2010. The segment is specifically centered around actor Michael Douglas' throat cancer diagnosis and its link with alcohol.

Despite past media coverage, a supplemental survey by the ASCO shows that most Americans still have no idea that alcohol poses such a threat. According to the survey, only 30 percent of Americans can identify alcohol consumption as a risk factor associated with cancer. That statistic comes from over 4,000 American adults who participated in the survey.

Most participants were able to identify other widely accepted risk factors, such as tobacco use and sun exposure, but for the most part, the booze slipped between the cracks.

What kind of cancer are we talking?

Well, according to the study, alcohol increases the risk of several different types of cancer.

"Alcohol is causally associated with oropharyngeal and larynx cancer, esophageal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, breast cancer, and colon cancer," the study says, adding that the evidence also points convincingly at liver cancer.

The study cites research showing that in 2012, about 5.8 percent of all cancer-caused deaths (worldwide) could be traced back to alcohol use.

"The more that a person drinks, and the longer the period of time, the greater their risk of development of cancer, especially head and neck cancers," the study says.

It doesn't matter whether your drink is a draft beer, wine, tequila shots or a few martinis, the risks are the same: If there's alcohol in it, it's not good. What does come into play, though, is the quantity of the beverage you drink (which we'll address in a bit).

So, what do I do?

ASCO is addressing the alcohol issue largely because it's something controllable. It's not something like genetics, which is simply out of our hands (we don't get to choose our parents). Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), you can eliminate alcohol-related cancer risks by decreasing your alcohol consumption.

Or better yet, swear off the hard stuff completely. "People who do not currently drink alcohol should not start for any reason," the study says.

Quitting might be a scary thought, but the study revealed that consuming one drink or fewer a day increases the risks for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, oropharyngeal cancer and breast cancer.

Serving sizes

But be aware that if you choose to roll the dice when it comes to drinking, "one drink" may not mean what you think it means. While all types of alcoholic beverages increase cancer risks, the quantity of beverage you consume also comes into play.

Different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol. Dr. Ashton explains that one serving of wine, for instance, is only five ounces just over half of a cup. A serving of tequila is only one and a half ounces. A serving of beer is 12 ounces. At the end of the day, serving sizes are usually smaller than we think they are. What you may think are just a couple of drinks could technically be several drinks, consequentially increasing the danger.

So now you know. Alcohol may be more dangerous than we previously thought. Be smart. Be safe. Drink responsibly, or better yet, not at all.