Prostate Cancer and Alcohol

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 07, 2022
3 min read

Though alcohol is a risk factor for many kinds of cancers, you won’t always find prostate cancer on the list. It doesn’t mean you’re in the clear where alcohol is concerned. Some research points to past drinking habits as a surer measure of risk than current alcohol consumption. Other studies conclude that current heavy or binge drinking amps up your chances of getting prostate cancer.

Reports and advice on whether to drink at all can conflict, too. For example, some doctors prescribe a no-alcohol lifestyle. Meanwhile, others think a little is OK. Your doctor is your best guide.

In a recent study, researchers found men who’d drunk heavily from their mid-teens to almost age 50 – at least seven drinks per week – were three times more likely to get high-grade prostate cancer than those who didn’t drink alcohol. “High-grade” refers to a scoring system of how cancer tissue appears under a microscope. Less healthy and more aggressive cells get higher numbers and indicate more intensive treatment is needed. Though researchers in this study didn’t find a link between current drinking patterns and high-grade prostate cancer, others have.

A long-range Canadian study on people who’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer found men who drank more than eight alcoholic drinks a week had a higher mortality rate than non-drinkers.

And a recent, in-depth study found alcohol ramped up the growth of prostate tumors and speeded the tissues’ progression to metastatic prostate cancer. This means the disease has spread to other areas of the body. The researchers in this case advised men diagnosed with prostate cancer to promptly cut out all alcohol. (It’s key to do it gradually, under your doctor’s care, especially if you drink often or heavily.)

The Prostate Cancer Foundation takes a slightly more chill approach when it comes to drinking alcohol pre-diagnosis, and to keep cancer at bay: You can safely have one drink per day. The U.S. dietary guidelines used to advise two alcoholic drinks a day tops, but they’ve cut the number.

And for the one drink, there’s a preference: a glass of red wine. The resveratrol in it is an antioxidant that might have cancer-fighting properties.

Despite wine’s slight edge, all alcohol has ethanol, a toxic chemical compound that also can damage body tissue.

When it comes to prostate cancer surgery, guidelines tend to get strict again. It’s key to be honest about your drinking habits with your doctor. They’ll guide you on how much, if any, is safe, and if it’s safe to stop drinking alcohol immediately.

Quitting drinking too suddenly can be dangerous for some people. It can trigger side effects like delirium (confused thinking) and seizures and can even be fatal. If needed, your doctor can prescribe meds to keep this from happening.

Even modest drinkers are at risk for complications during and after surgery. These could include heart problems, bleeding, infections, and having to stay in the hospital for longer.

When you attempt to quit, tell your doctor right away if:

  • You have a headache or feel like you’re going to throw up.
  • Your anxiety amps up.
  • You can’t sleep without drinking.
  • You can’t stop drinking.

These are some of the first signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.

The same goes if you get radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Some hospitals stick to the “moderation” route. As always, your doctor will give you the best advice.