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The Connection Between Consuming Alcohol and Ovarian Cancer

Posted on August 04, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Howard Goodman, M.D.
Article written by
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H.

Women in America face an approximate 1.2 percent overall risk of developing ovarian cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. However, a person’s individual risk depends on many different genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Alcohol consumption has been linked to developing some types of cancers, so you may be wondering if alcohol has any connection to ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer risk is determined by a combination of factors, including:

  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer
  • Being older or obese
  • Having endometriosis
  • Taking hormonal replacement therapy
  • Having never been pregnant

The risk may be lower if you’ve taken oral contraceptive therapy, had your first period later than usual, or experienced early menopause. Some lifestyle factors — such as poor diet and limited physical activity — are often thought to lead to additional risk or have an effect on the course of disease.

Here, we present an overview of the association between alcohol and ovarian cancer risk, medications, symptoms, and prognosis (disease outlook). Make sure to talk to your oncologist and ask about whether alcohol consumption could have an impact on your symptoms and treatment plan.

Alcohol and Ovarian Cancer Risk

Researchers have studied the health risks of alcohol consumption for decades. They’ve determined that alcohol is a carcinogen, or a substance that may cause cancer. Drinking alcohol has been linked to a higher incidence of various types of cancer, including breast cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and esophageal cancer.

This is due to the way alcohol breaks down into toxic chemicals in the body, like acetaldehyde and reactive oxygen, which can cause mutations in cells that can lead to tumor growth. Alcoholic beverages also increase blood estrogen levels, which could contribute to a higher risk of breast cancer.

Cancer research studies have explored whether there’s an association between alcohol and the risk of ovarian cancer. A pooled analysis from 2006 of past studies, which included around 530,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, found no association between alcohol intake and ovarian cancer risk. A similar meta-analysis from 2015, which included more than two million women with ovarian cancer, also found no connection between alcohol and risk of developing the condition. However, research on the health impacts of alcohol are ongoing.

Although there’s no current evidence connecting alcohol and ovarian cancer, alcohol can impact your life and health in other ways that contribute to a risk of cancer, including ovarian cancer.

Alcohol and Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

There is not a lot of existing research on how alcohol consumption might affect the symptoms or disease outcomes for people with ovarian cancer. Since it’s unknown whether alcohol might worsen symptoms or disease outcomes, it’s especially important to drink only in moderation, if at all.

Try keeping track of your alcohol use and any symptoms you have during and after drinking. Assess whether drinking alcohol is affecting your everyday life, energy levels, mental health, and overall well-being.

Alcohol and its effects have the potential to worsen a person’s existing ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Fatigue is common for people living with ovarian cancer. Experiencing a hangover and dehydration from heavy drinking may increase the fatigue you already experience.
  • Heavy drinking and ovarian cancer are both associated with a feeling of fullness and abdominal bloating, so drinking alcohol may worsen these abdominal symptoms. These symptoms may also disrupt your normal eating patterns.
  • Both drinking and some cancer treatments can cause digestive issues, including nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Alcohol is a dehydrating substance. It is important to keep as hydrated as possible when living with ovarian cancer, since ovarian cancer and treatments like chemotherapy can also cause dehydration.

Pay attention to how your body reacts after you drink alcohol and how that affects your overall health and wellness. Speak to your doctor about what lifestyle changes, including minimizing or eliminating drinking, can optimize your quality of life.

Alcohol and Ovarian Cancer Treatment

While alcohol does not have any known effects on ovarian cancer disease outcomes, it can have negative impacts on treatment side effects.

If you are receiving chemotherapy agents, you may find that your side effects are worsened by alcohol consumption. For example, mouth sores caused by chemo are often irritated by alcohol use. One MyOvarianCancerTeam member discussed swapping out their mouthwash for one with no alcohol to prevent further irritating mouth sores.

People undergoing treatments with specific chemotherapy agents should avoid alcoholic drinks. These agents include:

  • Docetaxel (sold as Taxotere)
  • Lomustine (Gleostine)
  • Procarbazine (Matulane)
  • Methotrexate

All chemotherapy agents are filtered and processed through the liver, just like alcohol. Drinking alcohol while taking these medications can lead to much worse irritation of the liver, and even cirrhosis (liver disease) in the long term.

If you’re receiving radiation therapy in the pelvic area, the effects of alcohol may further irritate your bladder, causing abdominal pain. Further, you may also be taking symptom-reducing medication, like sleep medications and anti-anxiety drugs, that can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.

Other common symptoms of chemo, like nausea and fatigue, may worsen when you drink. One MyOvarianCancerTeam member undergoing treatment shared, “Trying to eat sugar free; so much worse than giving up alcohol!” Maximizing your health in any way possible for you can help make treatment more manageable.

In general, it is always a good idea to look up the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treatment labels for your specific medications to see whether they advise against consuming alcohol while taking the drug. When in doubt, ask your doctor whether moderate drinking will worsen your side effects or make your treatment less effective.

Drinking Alcohol During Remission

Just as alcohol consumption has no association with the development of ovarian cancer, it hasn’t been found to pose any risk for remission (return) of ovarian cancer. However, alcohol can increase your relative risk for other kinds of cancer, such as breast cancer. Your specific risk depends on your overall health, diagnosis, treatment, and demographics, so speak to your doctor for specific recommendations.

The less alcohol you consume, the better your overall health will be. One MyOvarianCancerTeam member posted, “No soda, no alcohol, not much sugar, mostly plant-based,” about their new diet since going into remission. Another member shared, “Alcohol has been shown to reduce the number of platelets, and it should be avoided.”

Overall, make sure to keep your alcohol use in check, and speak to your doctor if you are concerned about the impacts of alcohol on your path to recovery.

Moderation and Communication

There is no evidence to show an association between alcohol intake and risk of ovarian cancer. However, heavy drinking can hurt your health in many ways, increase your risk of other types of cancer, and worsen your ovarian cancer treatment side effects.

If you choose to drink alcohol, make sure to do so in moderation. This is defined as two drinks or fewer per day for men and no more than one per day for women, per the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Keep your oncology provider in the loop about your drinking habits. If you are concerned about alcohol abuse or dependence, seek medical advice from your primary care provider or a local recovery program.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyOvarianCancerTeam is the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. On MyOvarianCancerTeam, more than 4,700 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.

What were your experiences drinking alcohol before your ovarian cancer diagnosis? Has alcohol consumption impacted your ovarian cancer symptoms and treatment? What advice do you have for other people living with ovarian cancer? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyOvarianCancerTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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