Some older research suggests that drinking alcohol may have a preventive effect on kidney cancer. However, the negative effects of alcohol consumption outweigh any potential benefits.

Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, occurs when cells grow uncontrollably in the kidneys.

The American Cancer Society reports that the condition is one of the 10 most common cancers. It states that the lifetime risk of developing it is approximately 2.02% in males and 1.03% in females. However, this varies depending on other risk factors.

Alcoholic drinks are popular beverages of choice for many people. While alcohol may have a slight preventive effect on kidney cancer, it may increase a person’s risk of developing several other types of cancer. Drinking alcohol also poses a range of other health risks.

This article discusses research about alcohol and the kidneys, the potential health risks of drinking alcohol, and when to speak with a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Some older research suggests that alcohol may have a preventive effect in regard to kidney cancer. No newer studies have disproven these findings.

A 2011 meta-review found that consuming 12 grams (g) of ethanol, or alcohol, every day may decrease a person’s risk of developing kidney cancer by about 5%. Researchers consider this statistically significant.

However, the review’s authors recommend further studies to determine the underlying biological processes that may cause this decrease in kidney cancer risk.

Their analysis had similar findings to an earlier analysis of 12 studies that authors published in 2007.

In this analysis, researchers found that compared with drinking no alcohol, drinking moderate amounts may decrease a person’s risk of developing renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. Moderate amounts of alcohol equated to just over one alcoholic drink, or about 15 g of alcohol, per day.

However, if a person drinks too much alcohol, it can have a negative effect on the kidneys and other areas of the body, such as the liver. The kidneys work to help remove harmful substances and waste from the body, while also managing its fluid and electrolyte levels. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may make these processes more difficult.

Over time, excessive strain on the kidneys can slowly damage the kidneys. Regularly drinking heavily may double a person’s risk of developing chronic kidney disease. In people who also smoke, the risk increases fivefold.

Cancer resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

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Drinking alcohol has many potential effects on health.

Cancer risk

While alcohol may not increase a person’s risk of developing kidney cancer, it does increase the risk of developing several other types, including:

Mounting evidence suggests that drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of the following:

Other health risks

Drinking alcohol can lead to other short-term and long-term health issues.

Short-term

Short-term risks associated with binge drinking, which doctors typically define as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks during a single occasion for females and five or more for males, include:

If a person is pregnant, binge drinking may lead to:

Long-term

Healthcare professionals generally define heavy drinking as consuming eight or more alcoholic drinks per week for females and 15 or more per week for males.

Long-term health risks of heavy drinking may include:

A person may wish to consider speaking with a doctor if they are concerned about how much they or a loved one drinks.

Doctors can help people find ways to reduce their alcohol intake and recommend further sources of support if necessary.

Help is available

Seeking help for addiction may feel daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support.

If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

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People may also want to speak to a doctor if they have concerns about their kidney health. While kidney cancer does not typically cause symptoms in the early stages, as the cancer grows, it can lead to:

A doctor can help evaluate, diagnose, and treat any underlying condition that may be causing these symptoms.

Alcohol consumption may help reduce the risk of kidney cancer, according to some research. However, it may also increase a person’s risk of several other cancers and put a person at risk of developing a range of other health issues.

People who have concerns about their alcohol consumption can discuss reducing their intake with a doctor.

A person who thinks they may be experiencing symptoms of kidney cancer should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.