Sperling Prostate Center

Worried about Prostate Cancer? Put that Second Beer Down!

UPDATE: 12/11/2020
Originally published 7/11/2017

Here it is, December of 2020. It’s been the Year of the Pandemic, and possibly also the Year of Increased Drinking.
A September 29 ABC News story reported a sharp increase in U.S. alcohol consumption—especially among women—perhaps as a way to cope with feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety. Traditional holidays, during which gatherings typically involve wine, beer and spirits (e.g. the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving) saw a post-celebration spike in COVID cases. Here we are, headed into the major season of bashes in honor of Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Presumably, there will be gatherings in spite of the coronavirus, and the booze will flow freely.

This seems like an apt time to update the blog we posted over three years ago. Indeed, there is a 2019 population study suggesting that men who drink alcohol had a lower overall risk of prostate cancer vs. nondrinkers; furthermore, among the men in the study who were diagnosed with localized prostate cancer, alcohol use did not seem to increase the risk of progression to lethal prostate cancer.


“Thank God we got the criminals, and America got the Puritans!”

The above saying may have some historical truth but not much relevance in today’s world. On the other hand, the question of which country has the alcoholics was recently addressed in the World Health Organization’s “Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.”[i] While consumption is increasing around the world, the highest alcohol use occurs in the developed world. The publication revealed that “…Americans drink 7.5-9.9 liters of alcohol per person per year while Canadians gulp down more than 12.5 liters each, as do Russians and Australians.”[ii] Spirits are the most consumed alcoholic beverage, but beer is not far behind. Wine, however, constitutes a mere 8%.

The form of alcohol in drinks is ethanol, a known cancer-causing agent. A group of Australian researchers wondered if the evidence in recent studies correctly connects heavy alcohol use with aggressive prostate cancer – and if so, are some beverages bigger culprits than others. What they found is not great news for beer lovers who exceed moderate use.

The 2017 study by Papa et al.[iii] used nearly 1300 cases of aggressive prostate cancer and 951 matched controls to analyze the link between high grade/advanced prostate cancer and the alcohol intake of all participants two years before enrollment in the study. They also broke the data down according to the type of alcohol: beer, red wine, white wine and spirits.

Those who drank beer at least five days per week or more had increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer compared with those who did not drink beer. “For every 10 [grams] per week ethanol intake from beer increase, the odds of advanced [prostate cancer] rose by 3%…” wrote the authors. Wine, on the other hand, offered a measure of protection against aggressive prostate cancer compared with those who drank no wine! The risk increase from drinking spirits was determined to be only marginal.

While the authors don’t explain why ethanol in beer is more carcinogenic than in wine or spirits, it is clear that heavy beer consumption is the worst offender in terms of raising the probability of developing potentially lethal prostate cancer. The news is rosier for wine drinkers, since they have a lower risk of deadly prostate cancer than those who drink no wine. So, if you’re a beer lover living in the U.S., Canada, Australia or anywhere else on the globe, limit yourself to 5 beers per week. And, while I’m not condoning drinking, consider switching to the fruit of the vine as a better way to enjoy a drink while protecting your prostate.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/en/
[ii] McEnaney, Michael. “World’s Top Drinkers? Canadians, Russians and Australians Top List, Americans Not Far Behind.” http://www.techtimes.com/articles/7015/20140514/worlds-top-drinkers-canadians-americans-putting-away-pretty-good-days.htm
[iii] Papa NP, MacInnis RJ, Jayasekara H, English DR et al. Total and beverage-specific alcohol intake and the risk of aggressive prostate cancer: a case-control study. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2017 Apr 18. doi: 10.1038/pcan.2017.12. [Epub ahead of print]


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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