Light Alcohol Drinking and Risk of Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies

Cancer Res Treat. 2018 Apr;50(2):474-487. doi: 10.4143/crt.2017.094. Epub 2017 May 22.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether light alcohol drinking increases the risk of cancer by using a meta-analysis of cohort studies because the newly revised 2015 European Code against Cancer fourth edition on alcohol and cancer was based on critical flaws in the interpretation and citation of the previous meta-analyses.

Materials and methods: PubMed and EMBASE were searched in April, 2016. Two authors independently reviewed and selected cohort studies on the association between very light (≤ 0.5 drink/day), light (≤ 1 drink/day), or moderate drinking (1-2 drinks/day) and the risk of cancer incidence and mortality. A pooled relative riskwith its 95% confidence intervalwas calculated by a random-effects meta-analysis. Main outcome measures were cancer incidence and mortality.

Results: A total of 60 cohort studies from 135 articles were included in the final analysis. Very light drinking or light drinking was not associated with the incidence of most cancers except for female breast cancer in women and male colorectal cancer. Conversely, light drinking was associated with a decreased incidence of both female and male lung cancer significantly and both female and male thyroid cancer marginally significantly. Moderate drinking significantly increased the incidence of male colorectal cancer and female breast cancer,whereas it decreased the incidence of both female and male hematologic malignancy.

Conclusion: We found that very light or light alcohol drinking was not associated with the risk of most of the common cancers except for the mild increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in men.

Keywords: Alcohols; Cancer; Cohort studies; Meta-analysis; Neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Risk Factors