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IARC Finds Eliminating or Reducing Alcohol Intake Can Lower Risk of Oral, Esophageal Cancer

, by Jennifer K. Loukissas, M.P.P.

Lowering or eliminating alcohol intake can lower risk of oral & esophageal cancer. More evidence is needed for other sites where alcohol causes cancer (larynx, colorectal, breast, liver, & pharynx).

An expert panel convened by the Handbooks of Cancer Prevention Programme of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found sufficient evidence that reduction or cessation of consumption of alcoholic beverages can reduce risk for cancers of the oral cavity and esophagus. Key results from their review of the published literature were summarized in a special report entitled, “The IARC Perspective on Alcohol Reduction or Cessation and Cancer Risk,” and published December 28, 2023, in The New England Journal of Medicine. The full report will be published later this year. 

Katherine McGlynn, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior investigator, and Christian Abnet, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior investigator and Director, both in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch, served on the panel of 17 experts from eight countries.

For other sites where alcohol is known to cause cancer, the panel found limited evidence of risk reduction for laryngeal, colorectal and breast cancers. In addition, there was inadequate evidence of risk reduction for pharyngeal and liver cancer. Furthermore, the panel also concluded that on the basis of strong evidence for three biologic mechanisms, there is sufficient evidence that alcohol cessation reduces alcohol-related carcinogenesis. 

While this publication describes the evidence for harm reduction from decreasing or eliminating alcohol use, a subsequent handbook will review interventions to motivate people and populations to make these behavioral changes.

As a companion to the IARC Monographs Programme, which convenes experts to review evidence on suspected or known carcinogens to determine hazards, the Handbooks Programme evaluates interventions that may reduce risk from those hazards. DCEG experts have previously served on Handbook working groups for oral cancer and cervical cancer screening. 


Gapstur SM et al. The IARC Perspective on Alcohol Reduction or Cessation and Cancer Risk. N Engl J Med. 2023.