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Drink carefully if you're a cancer patient

By Judy Fortin
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(CNN) -- In the American Cancer Society's new lifestyle guidelines for cancer survivors, maintaining a healthy weight is at the top of the list. The cancer society recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least five days a week and eating a diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat.

CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin asked the cancer society about alcohol use during cancer treatment and recovery. Here's what Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the cancer society, had to say.

Fortin: Should you drink alcohol if you're undergoing cancer treatment?

Doyle: I think what's important if you are undergoing cancer treatment and you are considering having some alcohol, absolutely talk to your oncologist about it. A glass, a couple times a week, may not be such a problem. One thing to think about though, for a cancer survivor undergoing treatment, is that alcohol can irritate your mouth, irritate your throat, so if you are a survivor that has sores in your mouth, certainly you would want to avoid alcohol consumption during cancer treatment.

Fortin: How can alcohol affect your recovery?

Doyle: As a cancer survivor, alcohol can affect you just as it can if you don't have cancer. As a cancer survivor, certainly you are at risk for cancer recurrence, and you are at risk for other primary cancers. So, I would tell cancer survivors, absolutely watch your alcohol consumption because it can affect the course of your treatment and it can certainly affect your risk of developing cancer or recurrence of cancer.

Fortin: How does alcohol affect cancer recurrence or new cancer growth?

Doyle: There are lots of different theories about how alcohol can impact cancer development. It might have to do with how alcohol is metabolized. Alcohol might also reduce some other nutrients in the blood that are protected against cancer. It may stir up some other hormone production that we know is associated with cell and tumor growth. Even though we don't know exactly what mechanisms are most important, it's clear that alcohol consumption influences cancer risks. We certainly recommend whether you are a cancer survivor or not that you cut back on alcohol if you currently drink.

Fortin: Which types of cancer might be affected by alcohol use?

Doyle: We know alcohol consumption is related to the increased risk of breast cancer in women, increased risk of oral, esophageal, and liver cancer in both men and women.

Fortin: How should we interpret studies that say some daily alcohol consumption is OK?

Doyle: I think the proper way to interpret it is that moderate consumption can be good for your heart health and can be good for your overall mortality but absolutely, higher levels than that can influence your cancer risks, in particular for breast cancer

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Even though experts don't know exactly how, it's known that alcohol consumption influences cancer risks.


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