To Drink or Not to Drink After Surviving Cancer

To Drink or Not to Drink After Surviving Cancer


According to Cancer Council WA, there is strong evidence that drinking alcohol is a cause for cancer. However, many people drink alcohol to relax or socialise, and find it difficult to give it up even after surviving cancer. A study published in the Journal of National Comprehensive Cancer Network found almost 35 percent of cancer survivors say they exceed the recommended levels for moderate drinking with 21 percent reportedly engage in binge drinking.

Although it is best not to drink alcohol at all after cancer, reducing alcohol consumption is a really good start.

Joanna, a breast cancer survivor, believes life is too short to cut out something you can enjoy in moderation. From her point of view, it wasn’t worth surviving cancer if she was going to limit her life to thinking about her cancer and the likelihood of it returning every time someone offers her a glass of alcohol. Having said that however, she has taken some steps to change her drinking habits that could be adopted by anyone:

  • She passes on that early evening glass of wine when she cooks
  • She has an alcohol-free beer whenever she needs something to mark the end of working mode
  • She very rarely drinks alone
  • She drinks less, and usually keeps within the recommended guidelines

To start the process, you may wish to consider lightening up alcohol content by adding orange juice to champagne (Mimosa) or lemonade to beer (Shandy).

If you love the taste of alcohol, alternatives such as non-alcohol beer, wine or champagne are worth trying. With the growth of non-alcoholic drinks, more options are becoming available in more stores. Mocktails are another possibility, but can be high in sugar and so should be consumed sparingly.

If you choose to drink alcohol which blocks the absorption of vitamin B, a report from Harvard recommends incorporating food high in folate or folic acid in your daily intake. Examples include leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, banana, citrus, melons, eggs, asparagus, beans, poultry, pork, and fortified cereals.

Cathy, another survivor of breast cancer, stopped drinking over time as she developed a “violent aversion to breast cancer”. Her advice for people who are not ready to give up drinking completely is to think about what matters most to you. For example,

  • If enjoying a special, fine dining meal means drinking good wine, consider drinking only at special meals.
  • If holidays aren’t the same without your fancy drink, enjoy alcohol only on those annual occasions.

 At the end of the day however, it is up to you to make the decision that best serves you.

Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She cared for her father and her husband with cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.