Can Alcohol and Stress Cause Colon Cancer?

The exact cause of colon cancer is not clearly yet. So far, it is thought as a hereditary condition. However some lifestyle and environmental factors can also affect the risk. In fact, many patients don’t have a family history of the same condition. How about alcohol and stress? Do they also have an effect to cause colon cancer?

Yap, colon cancer is linked to alcohol

According to a systematic review, daily drinking more than one standard glass of alcoholic beverage (about half a pint of beer) causes about 21 percent increase for bowel cancers. The further you drink, the greater risk you have!

In addition, bowel cancers include cancers of colon and rectum (a few inches after colon (large intestine)). These cancers are also familiar called as colorectal cancers.

Does the type of alcohol matter?

It doesn’t care the type of alcohol or alcoholic beverage you drink since the alcohol itself (ethanol) is the main problem.

The amount of alcohol you drink in long term is the major issue in increasing the risk. So there is no alcohol that is worse or better than others when it comes to the risk of cancer.

What are common cancers linked to alcohol?

However, not all drinkers will develop cancer. But in general, some cancers tend to occur in individuals who drink more alcohol.

And bowel cancer is one of cancers that significantly link to alcohol (see the picture below, credit to Cancer Research UK – the larger circle means more number of the cancer associated with alcohol)

Cancers_linked_to_alcohol

It seems that bowel cancers are the most common type of cancer linked to alcohol. Cancers of breast and mouth (upper throat) are in the second and third places.

How does alcohol cause colon cancer?

The problem comes from a substance called acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can be converted from your dietary alcohol. Over time, it can be a trigger to cause DNA damage and even inhibit the body’s ability to repair this damage.

Liver is the main organ that has function to break down your dietary ethanol. Acetaldehyde also can trigger cells in the liver grow faster which then over time may become cancerous cells.

And there are lots of cells in other parts of the body that can break down ethanol. Even some bacteria in the lining of bowel (colon and rectum) and mouths also can convert ethanol into acetaldehyde.

What else ethanol can do to trigger cancer:

  1. It can trigger the production of ROS (reactive oxygen species), highly reactive molecules. ROS can cause DNA damage, too – which then may cause a cancerous tumor to develop.
  2. Some studies have found that people with low folate tend to have cancer. Folate is essential vitamin to help body makes DNA properly. Drinking too much may have a role to cause folate deficiency. But it’s not clear yet whether alcohol causes cancer with this mechanism.
  3. Another possible answer is from oestrogen, a messenger-hormone that gives specific instructions to cells in the body such as when they need to divide. Alcohol can lead to high production of oestrogen, increasing the chance for abnormal cells to grow out of control.

The bad news, the habit of drinking too much alcohol may promote other risk factors of colon cancer such as smoking and poor in physical activity (lack of exercise, becoming a sedentary individual).

Even experts believe that when you drink and smoke a cigarette at the same time, together they can multiply your risk of having a cancer. Ethanol can make toxic chemicals from tobacco easier to go into cells of the body.

See also the link between smoking and colon cancer!

Does it mean you need to stop drinking?

When it comes to the issue of cancer risk, it’s much better if you can avoid alcohol, especially true if you are an individual with high risk of certain cancer or other conditions linked to alcohol.

But if you drink, just make sure to drink only in moderation – not more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women, recommended by the American Cancer Society. Talk to your doctor for more advice!

The risk of developing of colon cancer can involve more than one factor. See also in-depth information about risk factors of this disease in this post!

Can stress cause colon cancer?

image_illustration353Anyone will feel stressed at some point in lives. Actually, it is not always bad. For instance, you need it to keep alert or boost your performance. As long as you have it in small dose, there should be nothing to worry – even you need it!

The problem comes when it goes out of control and occurs too often. For such case, it can lead to both psychological and physical problems. In fact, high stress can worsen numerous different health conditions.

Does it affect your colon cancer risk?

During stressful period, some hormones in the body can be altered. This can also have an effect on the body immune system.

However, so far there is still no strong evidence to confirm the link between stress and the risk of colon cancer. Even most studies have shown that stress doesn’t have a significant role to increase the risk of any cancer.

A recent meta-analysis (a study that combines numerous different studies, this method often provides the most reliable result), including over 100,000 participants, didn’t find link between stress and cancers of bowel, prostate, lungs, and breast! Even if it does have an effect on the risk, its role would be very small (much smaller than other cancer-triggering factors).

Does it mean that good stress management is useless to fight against cancer?

Now you know that stress doesn’t affect your colon cancer risk, however this doesn’t mean that you can ignore it! While it may not affect your risk, but it can encourage unhealthy choices which some may increase your risk!

Many times it encourages people to smoke more cigarettes, heavy drinking, or overeating. And as mentioned before, both smoking and drinking can cause increased risk of bowel cancer. In these ways, stress could have indirect effect in increasing your risk!

Moreover for patients who are already diagnosed with bowel cancer – stress can affect the way of the treatment works, making it become less effective!

So when it comes to cancer, having a good stress management is essential, too. This is also worth a try to provide other health benefits. If you find difficulty in controlling your stress, see these helpful tips!

Citations /references:

  1. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/alcohol-use-and-cancer
  2. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/stress