Drinking in teens and 20s increases risk of getting cancer

Young women who drink regularly increase breast cancer risk by 34%

Drinking in teens and 20s increases the risk of getting cancer 10-20 years later

Drinking in teens and 20s increases the risk of getting cancer 10-20 years later


Young people don’t realise that drinking in their teens and 20s increases their cancer risk, the HSE has warned.

Women in their teens and 20s who drink regularly increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 34 per cent. Alcohol poses the greatest risk for mouth, head and neck cancers in Irish men. Those who drink two or more standard drinks per day are three times more likely to be diagnosed in their lifetime with these cancers compared to those who do not drink.

“Just as smoking does not cause lung cancer overnight, drinking in your teens and twenties does not result in a diagnosis of cancer immediately but it certainly increases the risk 10-20 years later,” a statement from the HSE said.

Monday marks the beginning of this year’s European Action on Alcohol Awareness Week which is focusing on alcohol and cancer.

Around 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer every year. Alcohol causes seven types of cancer including mouth, larynx, throat, oesophagus, breast, liver and bowel and is listed by the World Health Organisation as a Group 1 carcinogen along with tobacco, asbestos and HPV.

The Health Ireland 2016 survey found that just 16 per cent of 15-24 year old women were aware of the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.

For men and women who drink alcohol throughout their lifetime, there is a 49 per cent increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Dr Marie Laffoy, assistant national director of the HSE National Cancer Control Programme said “it’s important to get the message out to young people that what they drink now effects their cancer risk in the future”.

“Drinking regularly in your teens and 20s does have an effect long term and this isn’t something you can ignore until you are in your 50s and worry about it then,” Dr Laffoy said.

“The positive news is that this is something every individual has the power to control - the less we drink , the lower the risk of developing these cancers.”

This year’s European Action on Alcohol Awareness Week takes place from November 20th-24th.