A new report is offering a strong reminder that alcohol is a known cancer-causer, and advising those who drink to take in no more than one to two drinks a day.

Cancer Care Ontario released new recommendations Tuesday on how best to manage the risks of alcohol.

Their report found that, despite the wealth of studies noting the health risks of alcohol, only a third of Canadians are even aware they can lower their risk of cancer by reducing their alcohol intake.

“The average person doesn’t realize that alcohol is a cause of cancer,” CCO’s vice-president of prevention and cancer control, Dr. Linda Rabeneck, told CTV’s Canada AM Tuesday.

“It’s what we call a carcinogen. And there’s very clear evidence of that. Most people know about the risks of smoking, and smoking being a risk factor for cancer. But alcohol is a risk factor for cancer too.”

For those who do choose to drink alcohol, the agency says to reduce one’s cancer risk:

  • women should not drink more than one drink a day
  • men shouldn’t drink more than two drinks a day

Cancer Care Ontario would also like to see lawmakers take the risks of alcohol seriously, and are calling on the provincial government to:

  • Maintain and reinforce socially responsible pricing for alcohol, such as minimum pricing at or above consumer price index, and price disincentives for higher alcohol content beverages;
  • Ensure effective controls on alcohol availability, such as no increase in outlet density, no further privatization. That means they want the province to scrap its plans for LCBO Express kiosks in grocery stores
  • Strengthen controls on alcohol marketing and promotion;
  • Increase access to alcohol counselling interventions.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers alcohol a Class 1 carcinogen, meaning it's in the same category as asbestos, smoking, ultraviolet radiation, and diesel exhaust.

And yet Rabeneck says many Canadians seem unaware of how clearly alcohol has been linked to cancers of the mouth and throat, such as esophageal and pharyngeal cancers, as well as liver, colorectal, and breast cancers.

Even small amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase the risk of some cancers. The relative risk of oral and pharyngeal cancers, for example, is increased by 21 per cent for those consuming one drink or less per day, compared to non-drinkers. The risk also increases with the amount consumed.

Heavy alcohol drinkers -- meaning those who have more than four drinks per day -- are at a substantially increased risk of cancer.

“There’s no safe amount of alcohol consumption when it comes to cancer risk,” she says.

But Rabeneck also notes that several studies have found that a moderate level of alcohol can lower the risks of heart disease and stroke. That’s why, she says, the report took into consideration those possible health benefits in its new recommendations.

Smoking, says Rabeneck, actually increases the cancer risk of alcohol, working synergistically, she says, to increase the health risks.

“So people who drink alcohol to excess and smoke are at really very high of certain cancer,” she says.

In Ontario, around 3,000 cases of cancer each year can be attributed to alcohol consumption, the agency says. Those cases account for two to four per cent of all new cancers a year.