Can You Drink Alcohol While Having Immunotherapy?

Alcohol use, alongside excess body weight and tobacco use, is one of the known preventable factors for cancer. Its abuse has been one of the etiologies linked to the growing cases of various cancer types in both men and women. Alcohol use accounts for 6% of all cancers worldwide.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed both ethanol and its primary metabolite, acetaldehyde, as human carcinogens. In research of Seitz and Stickel (2007), chronic alcoholic abuse accounts for 3.6 per cent or 389,100 cases of all cancers worldwide.

Alcohol is a definite risk factor that has already been established for cancers such as the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver, colon, and rectal cancers. However, its effect on patients undergoing immunosuppressive therapies has not yet been mostly tackled.

In this article, we will be discussing the impact of drinking alcohol during and after immunotherapy, what food can you eat, and the best time to drink alcohol post-treatment.

Does Alcohol Affect Immunotherapy?

American Cancer Society counsels that it is best for a patient to lobby their alcohol concerns first with their healthcare providers. Every disease condition has a different course of illness. It is at doctors’ discretion to decide the safety of drinking alcohol following chemotherapy treatment.

Chronic leukemias and lymphomas, for example, initially do not require treatment. The relatively lesser lifestyle changes allow small to moderate amounts of alcohol consumption. In a study from Komen Foundation, one or more alcohol consumption a day confers a greater risk of breast cancer development in women. Laryngeal, liver, and colorectal cancer are also increased with alcohol intake. 

It is critical that you are honest in discussing your alcohol usage with your healthcare team. If you are unsure about your health status and have not consulted your physician, then it is best to avoid drinking altogether while you are undergoing treatment.

Can You Drink Alcohol While On Immunosuppressants?

When you are on treatment, alcohol can definitely contribute to worsening your therapy’s side effects. It is not also recommended to drink alcohol concomitantly while you are on immunosuppressant drugs. Alcohol not only affects your immune system but also interacts with certain medications and increases side effects.

Discuss your treatment plan and alcohol use with your healthcare team first. Determine up to which amount of intake is acceptable for you. An occasional drink while on treatment may be allowed as well, depending on the location of your treatment. Drinking alcohol depends on your current condition and may not be applicable to those with the same disease as you.

Abstinence is definitely recommended for patients who are undergoing radiation to areas such as the head, esophagus, or stomach. Alcohol consumption, during and after radiation, irritates these areas and may be physically uncomfortable for you.

Empty calories from alcohol cause weight gain, which defeats the purpose once you have a diet plan. As mentioned earlier, excess weight is one of the known risk factors for cancer. Limiting alcohol consumption is, therefore, an important long-term strategy in the reduction of long-term cancer risk.

As with weight gain, another correlation to alcohol is tobacco use. The combinatory use of both alcohol and tobacco at the same time has an added effect on increasing cancers such as oral, pharynx, and esophagus.

What Are The Best Foods To Eat While On Immunotherapy?

While you are on your treatment, it is best that you pay attention to the side effects and counteract it in your diet. Dividing your usual three large meals in a day into 6 to 8 frequent small meals may help your feelings of nausea. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, or dairies will keep you away from experiencing diarrhea. 

It is important to incorporate at least two and a half servings of vegetables and fruits into your daily diet. Target protein-rich snacks, lessen your consumption of high-fat meals and avoid salty foods as much as possible. You may also choose food rich in folates such as broccoli, banana, citrus, and more. 

Eating the prescribed or suggested food will help in keeping you strong and avoid weight gain. Coupled with active exercise, eating healthy helps combat your feeling of fatigue and affect as a whole. Do not forget to consult your physician about any new diet and activities you want to try.

What Happens If You Drink Alcohol After Chemotherapy And Radiation?

Alcohol can impact your cancer treatment in various ways. Its biochemical properties interact with some cancer medications, which might, in turn, increase the risk of harmful side effects. Listed below are some of the effects of alcohol on your body system:

 Bone Marrow Production

Alcohol interferes with your bone marrow’s production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Consumption is detrimental to patients who have blood and marrow cancers, such as myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma.

Sedative Effects

Alcohol is a known sedative. Medications that help fight post-radiation pain and nausea may have side effects such as fatigue. Alcohol may add fuel to the medication’s side effects which can impact your sleep and, consequently, your quality of life.

Digestive Tract Irritation

Small amounts of alcohol can worsen existing oral mucositis or mouth sores. Consumption also irritates your stomach lining and gastrointestinal tract, which causes nausea and even vomiting.


Certain cancer therapies cause diarrhea and vomiting. This, in turn, causes dehydration which furthers the risk of the therapies’ side effects. Alcohol also causes dehydration. Once you get dehydrated, you will experience irritability, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and more.

Liver Toxicity

A lot of chemotherapy drugs are excreted from the body through the liver. The numerous medication alone stresses the liver’s normal filter process. Alcohol is also metabolized in the liver and may compete, if not added, with the excretion of other medications.

Rise of Estrogen Levels

In women, chronic alcohol intake leads to increase levels of estrogen. This is an essential hormone for breast tissue growth and development. The rapid and unhealthy rise of estrogen has an insidious effect on breast tissues that confer a higher risk for breast cancer. 

Increased estrogen levels are also implicated in ovarian and uterine cancers. The risk becomes higher also for post-menopausal women.

For people who have been diagnosed with cancer, alcohol intake is also a risk for the development of new cancer such as oral, breast, and liver cancer. The primary alcohol-related cancer morbidity and mortality in women is breast cancer, and in men, it is esophageal cancer or upper airway cancer. 

Head and neck cancer survivors who continue with moderate to heavy drinking alcohol are at increased risk of recurrence. Although cancer recurrence for other cancer types is yet to be researched, it is always important to discuss with your physician first. Extensively converse on factors such as

  • Your cancer type
  • Your recurrence risk
  • Your medications, treatments, and side effects
  •  Your overall health
  • Other possible potential risks of drinking

How Long After Finishing Chemotherapy Can You Drink Alcohol?

It still depends on your healthcare provider’s decision. In general, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that men consume two drinks per day while women consume one drink per day. A “drink” is equivalent to 1.5 ounces (a shot) of liquor, five ounces of wine, eight ounces of malt liquor, or 12 ounces of beer. Wine, liquor, and beer approximately have half an ounce of alcohol per serving.

Thus, the type of alcohol you drink is also important. Alcohol by volume (ABV) or alcohol proof discloses the alcohol content of every liquor you drink. The higher the ABV or proof, the lesser you can safely consume. Compared to beer (3%-7% ABV), and wine (9%-15%), for example, liquor has 40% – 50% ABV or 80 to 100-proof.

According to a Harvard study, chronic alcohol consumption also causes Folate deficiency. The lack of folic acid hampers the production of healthy cells, and its protective effect on DNA mutations is decreased. These DNA changes increase the breast cancer risk in women. However, a daily folic acid supplement of at least 600 micrograms per day appears to lessen the risk.

Drinking alcohol is not at all bad. In fact, moderate consumption lowers the risk of other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. Drinking pattern also matters. In a study conducted, consuming one drink a day and spread out on four days a week or more correlates to the low death rates of health conditions mentioned.

Alcohol’s effect on cancer recurrence has not been fully elucidated in studies. Currently, it does not appear to have an effect on cancer’s survival times or progression. A study from the American College of Cardiology shows that alcohol in moderation calms the brain’s stress signals. It further helps in reducing the patient’s anxiety levels while on chemotherapy.

It is crucial to have the discipline of your beverage and food intake no matter how much you want to resume your usual lifestyle post-radiation. Before making a decision about what to consume and ingest, consult your physician and healthcare team first.