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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol and Throat Cancer: What's the Connection?

August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 9, 2023
10 min read

For many of us, a glass of wine or a cold beer is a symbol of relaxation and enjoyment. But what if that very sip carried more than just flavor? What if it held a risk we've overlooked for years? Recent research has unveiled a connection between alcohol and an alarming health concern: throat cancer. How does one lead to the other? If you're someone who's trying to cut back on alcohol, or if you just want to understand the connection between the two, this topic is worth exploring. It might not be the most cheerful cocktail party topic, but it's crucial information if you want to be in the know.

As we dive into the specifics, you'll come to understand the science behind this relationship and learn ways to protect your throat's health. It's not just about telling tales of caution; it's about empowering you with knowledge and actionable steps. Whether you're an occasional drinker or someone who enjoys a daily nightcap, this information is crucial for making informed decisions. 

Here’s the scoop on the link between alcohol and throat cancer, backed by science.

Is There Really a Connection?

Yes, indeed — the connection is clear! Researchers have discovered a connection between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of developing throat cancer

Alcohol is broken down into a chemical called acetaldehyde in the body, which can damage DNA and prevent our cells from repairing the damage. Over time, this damage can lead to changes in the cells, causing them to grow uncontrollably and possibly develop into cancer.

Throat Cancer and Alcohol: Alcohol and Throat Cancer Symptoms

The throat is more than just the passage for your favorite beverages — it's an intricate structure with many parts, all of which can be affected by alcohol:

  • Laryngeal cancer. This type of cancer affects the larynx (the voice box). Located at the top of the windpipe, the larynx helps us speak, swallow, and breathe. Persistent hoarseness, a sore throat, or a lump in the neck can be warning signs. Alcohol can irritate the cells in this region, making them more vulnerable to the harmful transformations that can lead to cancer.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer. This type impacts the middle part of the throat. The oropharynx is situated behind the mouth; it includes the tonsils, the base of the tongue, and the walls of the upper throat. Symptoms often include difficulty swallowing, persistent sore throat, or even ear pain. The risk here comes from the direct contact of these body parts with alcohol when it’s consumed. Repeated exposure causes potential cellular damage over time.
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer. This type targets the lower part of the throat. Nestled at the bottom of the throat, the hypopharynx helps guide our food into the esophagus and air into the windpipe. Tumors in this region are typically detected at later stages, making them more challenging to treat. Signs can include pain while swallowing and a constant lump-in-the-throat feeling. Once again, repeated exposure to alcohol can heighten the risk of developing this form of throat cancer.
Three Types of Throat Cancer

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

The risk of throat cancer doesn't just happen overnight — it builds up slowly and is generally associated with heavy drinking over a long period of time. But remember, no amount of alcohol can be considered completely safe, especially if we’re talking about throat health.

Even moderate drinking increases the risk, though not as much as heavy drinking. For those of us thinking about quitting or cutting back, this could be a good motivator. Why take the risk if we don't have to?

Double Trouble

The connection between alcohol and throat cancer is more pronounced if we add smoking into the picture. Alcohol can actually make it easier for the throat to absorb the harmful chemicals from tobacco. It's like a villainous team-up in the world of health risks!

Action Steps To Cut Back or Quit

  • Understand your triggers. What makes you want to drink? Identify these triggers and find alternatives.
  • Set clear goals and seek support. Whether you want to cut back a bit or quit entirely, having a plan can make this change easier. Let friends and family know your goals, or join a support group. Keep track of your successes and celebrate them, even the small ones!
  • Soothing sips. Choose beverages that not only omit alcohol but also promote throat health. Warm herbal teas like chamomile or slippery elm can soothe irritated throat tissues. Make a list of throat-friendly drinks and aim to incorporate one into your daily routine.
  • Vocal vacation. Did you know that overuse of your voice can strain the throat? Take “silent breaks” to rest your voice, especially on days you feel any discomfort. During these quiet times, try deep breathing exercises to relax and increase airflow and circulation to the throat.
  • Holistic throat health workshops. Attend workshops or classes focusing on throat health. This could be anything from learning proper vocal techniques to practicing yoga poses that benefit the throat chakra. Plus, being in a community setting might provide additional motivation to reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Swallow studies. If you've been a heavy drinker, consider getting a swallow study. It's a simple test to see how well your throat muscles function when swallowing. Not only can it provide peace of mind, but if there are issues, early detection can lead to better outcomes.
  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol dehydrates, which isn't great news for your throat. Prioritize hydration. Aim for 8 glasses of water a day, and consider increasing this if you're active or live in a dry climate. Keep a reusable water bottle with you as a constant companion to make hydration a priority.
  • Seek expert ears (and voices). Schedule a visit with an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. Regular check-ups can ensure your throat is in top shape and catch potential issues early on. Discuss your journey of reducing alcohol with them, and they might offer additional personalized tips.

Protect Your Voice

While the connection between alcohol and throat cancer isn’t a fun topic, it's a vital one to understand if you're serious about your health. Remember, revamping your relationship with alcohol doesn't have to be drab — look at it as an opportunity to find and strengthen your own unique voice, both literally and figuratively. Your throat will thank you, and you'll probably find that life's non-alcoholic beverages are pretty tasty too!

Ready To Get Into Healthier Habits? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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