Drinking alcohol has many proven health effects, including increased risk for several types of cancer. This includes cancers such as breast cancer and liver cancer.

Alcohol isn’t known to increase your chances of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML). However, drinking during AML treatment can have a serious impact on your overall health and recovery. It can even lead to permanent damage.

Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer. However, there is no proven link between alcohol and an increased risk of any type of leukemia, including AML. Alcohol is a known risk factor for:

There is also increasing evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption might be a risk factor for melanoma, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer. So, although alcohol doesn’t raise your risk for AML specifically, it does raise your risk for numerous other cancers.

It’s also important to know that treatment for these other types of cancer could raise your risk for AML in the long run since chemotherapy treatment is a risk factor for AML.

Additionally, while it’s true that alcohol isn’t a risk factor for AML in adults, it is a risk factor for AML in children. Children who were exposed to alcohol in the womb have a higher risk of developing AML. This means that drinking alcohol might not increase your own risk of AML, but it can increase the risk to your child if you drink during pregnancy.

Drinking heavily can take a toll on the body. Not only does it increase your risk of several types of cancer, but it can also weaken your immune system and slow down your brain function. Over time, it can damage your heart, liver, and pancreas, leading to conditions such as:

Drinking alcohol while you’re receiving treatment for AML has additional effects on your body. It can make your symptoms worse, slow your recovery, and cause permanent damage. Major risks of drinking alcohol while you have AML include:

  • Worsened bone marrow function. Alcohol can interfere with the production of blood cells in your bone marrow. People with AML already have damaged bone marrow function, and it’s likely that recent chemotherapy has further reduced your bone marrow function. Drinking along with AML and chemotherapy can significantly harm your bone marrow and blood cell production.
  • Stomach irritation. AML treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can irritate your stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) tract causing nausea, vomiting, constipation, and mouth sores. Alcohol causes similar irritation to your stomach and GI tract. It can worsen the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Strain on your liver. Chemotherapy treatments are processed and excreted from your body through your liver. This means your liver is under abnormally high strain during chemotherapy treatment. Alcohol is also processed through your liver, and drinking while receiving chemotherapy can cause enough strain to result in permanent damage.
  • Sedative effects. Fatigue is a common symptom of AML. It can also be a side effect of medications you might be taking to control pain and nausea. Alcohol is a sedative and can amplify the fatigue you may already be experiencing.

As a rule, it’s not considered safe to drink alcohol while you’re receiving treatment for AML. If you’re concerned about alcohol and treatment, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional. Let them know how much you currently drink on a daily or weekly basis. They can guide you as you cut back slowly.

In some cases, you might be unable to quit completely, and a healthcare professional can help you find an acceptable small amount. No matter what, it’s important that those in your healthcare team know about any alcohol you drink during your AML treatment.

Quitting alcohol is a tough decision that can be challenging to stick to. However, it’s the best choice for your health in the long run. There are numerous resources you can turn to for support along the way:

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Treatment navigator. This free tool can help you find medical care, therapists, and recovery programs in your area.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline. You can call this free national helpline at 800-662-4357 for information and referrals to local resources. The helpline is available 24/7 in both English and Spanish.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA’s 12-step model has been helping people quit drinking for decades. You can find a local chapter using their website.
  • SMART Recovery. The SMART recovery model offers free mutual support meetings along with resources and tools that can help you quit.
  • Women for Sobriety. Women for Sobriety welcomes all women looking to quit alcohol or drugs with in-person meetings, online support, phone counseling, and other resources.
  • Gays and Lesbians in Alcoholics Anonymous (GaL-AA). GaL-AA is a resource to help members of the LGBTQ community find welcoming and supportive AA meetings.

There isn’t a direct link between drinking alcohol and increased risk for AML. However, drinking during pregnancy can increase the risk of AML in children.

Drinking alcohol during AML treatment isn’t considered safe. It can further limit your bone marrow’s ability to make blood cells, increase the stomach and GI symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation, make fatigue from AML and medications worse, and cause permanent liver damage.

A healthcare professional can help guide you to cut down on alcohol slowly during your AML treatment.