Study Finds Americans Have a Low Awareness of the Link Between Alcohol Use and Increased Cancer Risk

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Research shows that all beverage types containing ethanol, including wine, beer, and hard liquor, increase cancer risk, and that the risk increases with higher alcohol consumption. Even light drinking—no more than one drink per day—increases the risk for some cancers, including esophageal and breast cancers. Despite conclusive evidence of the cancer risk of alcohol consumption, which accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the United States, more than 50% of Americans are unaware of this risk, and some believe alcohol confers health benefits, according to the results from a study by Seidenberg et al published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The study findings showcase the need to educate the public about the link between alcohol use and cancer risk.

Study Methodology

The researchers used data from the National Cancer Institute’s Health Information National Trends Survey 5 Cycle 4, a nationally representative mailed survey. It was administered between February 27 and June 15, 2020, and a total of 3,865 adults participated in the survey. Awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer was measured for three alcoholic beverage types: wine, beer, and liquor. Questions included, “In your opinion, how much does drinking the following types of alcohol affect the risk of getting cancer?” Additional questions assessed the respondents’ awareness of the link between alcohol and heart disease. Respondents were also asked about their current alcohol intake.


  • More than 50% of Americans are unaware of link between alcohol use and increased cancer risk, and some believe alcohol confers health benefits.
  • Awareness of the alcohol-cancer risk was low, varied by beverage type, and was higher among those recognizing that alcohol use increased heart disease risk.
  • Educating the public about the alcohol-cancer link may help prevent and reduce excessive alcohol use, as well as cancer morbidity and mortality.


Awareness of the alcohol-cancer link was highest for liquor (31.2%), followed by beer (24.9%), and then wine (20.3%). More adults believed wine (10.3%) decreased cancer risk compared with beer (2.2%) and liquor (1.7%). Most adults (> 50%) reported not knowing how these beverages affected cancer risk. Respondents who believed alcoholic beverages increased heart disease risk had higher adjusted predicted probabilities of being aware of the alcohol-cancer link (wine: 58.6%, beer: 52.4%, liquor: 59.4%) compared with those who were unsure (wine: 6.0%, beer: 8.6%, liquor: 13.2%) or those who believed alcoholic beverages reduced (wine: 16.2%, beer: 21.6%, liquor: 23.8%) or had no effect on heart disease risk (wine: 10.2%, beer: 12.0%, liquor: 16.9%).

“These findings underscore the need to educate U.S. adults about the alcohol-cancer risk, including raising awareness that drinking all alcoholic beverage types increases cancer risk,” concluded the study authors.

“Educating the public about how alcohol increases cancer risk will not only empower consumers to make more informed decisions, but may also prevent and reduce excessive alcohol use, as well as cancer morbidity and mortality,” said William M.P. Klein, PhD, Associate Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program and senior author of the study, in a statement.

Disclosure: Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit


The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.