Throat cancer affects the throat, voice box, vocal cords, or tonsils. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) — a condition involving alcohol use even though it may harm the body — can increase a person’s risk of developing throat cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to throat cancer as head and neck cancer. It may start in the mouth, sinuses, or behind the nose.

Doctors may also call throat cancer laryngeal, laryngopharyngeal, or nasopharyngeal cancer.

This article examines the link between alcohol use and throat cancer. We discuss the symptoms and causes of throat cancer and how to prevent it. We also look at the connection between alcohol use and other types of cancer.

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The National Cancer Institute states that smoking and alcohol consumption are two main risk factors for throat cancer. According to a 2021 research article, many people are unaware of the health risks that alcohol may cause and the types of cancers to which it may lead.

Alcohol causes cancer in several ways.

For example, when a person consumes alcohol, the body transforms it into acetaldehyde, a chemical that damages the DNA. Excessive alcohol consumption may lead to acetaldehyde buildup in the liver as the body cannot absorb that amount at once, increasing a person’s risk of developing cancer.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that people who drink alcohol and smoke may be more likely to have mouth or throat cancer than those who do not smoke or drink alcohol.

Alcohol may encourage the upper digestive tract to absorb tobacco smoke’s harmful chemicals. It may also make it difficult for the body to eliminate these chemicals.

Throat cancer may cause various symptoms, such as:

People with mouth cancer may have different symptoms, such as:

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lists some symptoms that indicate a person may have AUD, including:

  • finding it hard to reduce alcohol consumption
  • continuing drinking alcohol despite it causing relationship issues
  • experiencing withdrawal effects such as:
  • avoiding engaging in activities to drink instead

Other factors may increase the chance of having oral cancer, such as:

  • Genetics: Individuals with a close relative who has had oral cancer may be more at risk of developing cancer than those without a family history.
  • Age: Oral cancer tends to affect those aged 55 years and older.
  • Smoking: The ACS states that using a pipe, cigars, and cigarettes may contribute to head and neck cancer. Secondhand smoke exposure may also increase cancer risk, but there is limited research.
  • Diet: Research indicates a diet low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of oropharynx diseases.
  • Sun exposure: People who work outdoors and expose their skin to UV light have a higher chance of developing lip cancer than those who avoid sun exposure.

Alcohol may have adverse effects on a person’s health. It may be best to avoid alcohol consumption, but people who choose to drink should do so in moderation.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that females do not have more than one drink and males do not have more than two drinks daily.

Other tips that may help support oral health include:

Researchers also link alcohol use with other types of cancers:

  • Breast cancer: Alcohol may increase breast cancer risk, as it may change the levels of hormones in the body, such as estrogen. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that alcohol is one of the main risk factors for breast cancer.
  • Liver cancer: Heavy alcohol use can cause liver scarring and inflammation, which raises the risk of liver cancer.
  • Bowel cancer: Regular alcohol drinking may raise the risk of bowel cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer: One study found that one drink daily can increase the risk of esophageal, gastric, and colorectal cancers.

A person should consult a doctor if they have a sore throat that does not go away or experience any other unusual symptoms.

People who find it difficult to reduce their alcohol consumption should also seek help.

The NIAAA states that licensed therapists can help individuals change their drinking behavior to limit or prevent alcohol consumption. Mutual support groups may also help people meet others experiencing the same issue.

Doctors may prescribe medications to those with severe AUD. They should not stop drinking abruptly, as this may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and sweating, and could be life threatening.

Learn more about AUD and treatment options.

Throat cancer can develop in the throat, mouth, voice box, or lips. Regular alcohol drinking increases its risk but may also affect individuals who smoke and eat processed foods.

Throat cancer may cause several symptoms, such as persistent sore throat, ear pain, and swallowing difficulties.

People should seek medical help if they are concerned about their symptoms and have a family history of oral cancer. Doctors may recommend attending therapy sessions or community groups for people wanting to reduce their alcohol intake.