Does alcohol affect healing of bones & wounds and does it cause cancer?

We take a whole-of-person or holistic approach to improving the well-being of our patients. Our aim is to help our clients enjoy a pain free high quality life. This is why we ask questions about the smoking and alcohol drinking habits of our patients. We understand that you may not wish to answer these questions; just let us know. Like many others, I and some of my team enjoy the taste of some beers and wines.

But does alcohol cause problems with healing and does it cause cancer?

Previously I have authored a blog post on how smoking tobacco delays healing. Some patients are surprised and interested to know that drinking alcohol also can cause problems with healing after fractures and wounds, and that alcohol can cause cancer.

Does Alcohol Drinking Affect Wound Healing?

A recent study reviewed past research and concluded that chronic heavy drinking of alcohol causes an increased likelihood (susceptibility) of tuberculosis, pneumonia, and HIV virus, and cardiovascular disease. Alarmingly a pattern of chronic heavy drinking increases the risks for morbidity (sicknesses) and mortality (death) following surgery.[1] There are over 60 health hazards associated with heavy drinking.[2] Of special interest to physiotherapy and hand therapy is the fact that chronic heavy drinking is associated with poor skin & bone wound healing. Chronic alcohol consumption (alcoholism) has been found to inhibit fracture healing of bones[4]. Even in a person who may not otherwise be an alcoholic, but has a high intake of alcohol at the time of receiving a penetrating wound, there is a much larger risk of having the wound become infected. A blood alcohol level (BAL) of >200 mg/dl at the time of a penetrating wound may result in infections being more than 2.5 times what they would otherwise be.[5]

How many drinks is considered heavy drinking?

But how many drinks do you need to consume a week to be classified as a heavy drinker according to the scientific research? Many might be surprised to learn that heavy drinking simply means that during a typical week a person has eight drinks or more per week for women, and 15 drinks or more for men. So if you are a woman who has just one drink a day and two on a Saturday night, then the medical literature refers to this pattern as heavy drinking. Similarly, a man who has 1 drink a day between Monday and Friday, and 10 drinks on the weekend, would also be regarded as being a heavy drinker. Sometimes a definition of at least 60 g of pure alcohol per day has been used to define a heavy drinker. [6]

Is there a Connection Between Drinking Alcohol and Cancer?

Cancer Council Australia noted that national data indicated that in 2010 more than 3,000 cases of cancer were due to alcohol consumption. It seems certain that alcohol drinking increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and breast.[7]

It has been noted by Cancer Research UK that alcohol is one of the causes of seven different types of cancer. In the UK, alcohol drinking causes nearly 12,000 cases of cancer a year. Finally alcohol drinking is at least associated [8] with, if not a cause of, cancer of the pancreas and prostate.[9]

I hope this helps you understand why we are asking about drinking and smoking during your first consultation. We simply want to inform you about the influence these products may have on how fast you heal. If patients are educated they can make informed decisions; perhaps even deciding to cut back such consumption while on the path to healing.


  1. Sureshchandra, S et al., 2019, Chronic heavy drinking drives distinct transcriptional and 1 epigenetic changes in splenic macrophages, EBioMedicine 43: 594–606,
  2. Davis, K, 2018, Ten health risks of chronic heavy drinking, MedicalNewsToday,
  3. Sureshchandra, S et al., 2019, Chronic heavy drinking drives distinct transcriptional and 3 epigenetic changes in splenic macrophages, EBioMedicine 43: 594–606,
  4. Jung, K et al., 2011, Alcohol Exposure and Mechanisms of Tissue Injury and Repair, Alcohol Clin 4 Exp Res. 35(3): 392–399,
  5. Gentilello et al., 1993, Acute ethanol intoxication increases the risk of infection following 5 penetrating abdominal trauma, J. Trauma 34(5): 669-74,
  6. Roerecke & Rehm, 2014, Chronic heavy drinking and ischaemic heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Open Heart 1(1)
  7. Cancer Council NSW, eports/our-position-statements-about-cancer-council-nsw/alcohol-and- cancer2/
  8. Research UK, Does alcohol cause cancer?, -alcohol-cause-cancer
  9. Bagnardi et al, 2015, Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose- 9 response meta-analysis, Br J Cancer, 112(3):580-93,

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