What you need to know about acute myeloid leukemia and alcohol

Alcohol consumption has many proven health effects, including an increased risk of several types of cancer. This includes cancers such as breast cancer and liver cancer.

Alcohol is not known to increase your chances of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML). However, drinking while taking AML 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 more and more evidence suggest that alcohol consumption could be a risk factor for melanoma, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. So, although alcohol does not specifically increase your risk for AML, it does increase your risk of developing many other cancers.

It is also important to know that treating these other types of cancer may increase your risk of AML in the long term, as chemotherapy is a risk factor for AML.

Additionally, while it is true that alcohol is not a risk factor for AML in adults, it is a risk factor for AML in children. Children who have been exposed to alcohol in the womb have a higher risk to develop the LBA. This means that drinking alcohol may not increase your own risk of AML, but may increase the risk to your child if you drink during pregnancy.

Drinking a lot can have harmful consequences on the body. Not only does this increase your risk for several types of cancer, 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 are taking AML treatment has additional effects on your body. It can make your symptoms worse, slow your recovery, and cause permanent damage. The main risks of drinking alcohol while you have AML include:

  • Deterioration of bone marrow function. Alcohol can interfere with the production of blood cells in the bone marrow. People with AML already have damaged bone marrow function, and it is likely that recent chemotherapy has further reduced bone marrow function. Drinking with AML and chemotherapy can seriously harm your bone marrow and blood cell production.
  • Irritation of the stomach. Treatments for AML such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can irritate the stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) tract causing nausea, vomiting, constipation, and mouth ulcers. Alcohol causes similar irritation to the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. It can make the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy worse.
  • Put a strain on your liver. Chemotherapy treatments are processed and excreted from your body by your liver. This means that your liver is under unusually high pressure during chemotherapy treatment. Alcohol is also processed by your liver, and drinking while receiving chemotherapy can cause enough blood pressure to cause permanent damage.
  • Sedative effects. Fatigue is a common symptom of AML. It can also be a side effect of the medications you are taking to control pain and nausea. Alcohol is a sedative and can amplify the fatigue you may already be feeling.

Generally, it is not considered safe to drink alcohol while you are being treated for AML. If you are concerned about alcohol and medication, it is best to speak to a healthcare professional. Let them know how much you are currently drinking on a daily or weekly basis. They can guide you as you slowly cut back.

In some cases, you may not be able to stop completely, and a healthcare professional can help you find a small amount that is acceptable. Either way, it is important that members of your healthcare team are aware of any alcohol you drink during your AML treatment.

Stopping drinking alcohol is a difficult decision to make. However, it is the best choice for your long term health. There are many resources you can turn to for help along the way:

  • 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 Addiction and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) helpline. You can call this toll-free national helpline at 800-662-4357 for information and referrals to local resources. The helpline is available 24/7 in 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 as well as resources and tools that can help you quit smoking.
  • 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 is no direct link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of AML. However, drinking during pregnancy may increase the risk of AML in children.

Drinking alcohol while taking AML is not considered safe. This can further limit your bone marrow’s ability to make blood cells, increase stomach and gastrointestinal symptoms from chemotherapy and radiation therapy, make fatigue from AML and drugs worse, and cause permanent liver damage.

A healthcare professional can help you gradually reduce your alcohol consumption while you are taking AML.

About Michael Brafford

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