If you have received a myeloma diagnosis, you may be wondering how alcohol consumption can affect disease progression and your symptoms. Many factors can affect your myeloma risk, so it can be confusing to decide how much importance to give alcohol use in the scheme of everything else you may be experiencing.
Research shows that people with certain chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, may be more likely to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol than the general population. The authors of one 2020 study suggest it may be prudent for clinicians to consider the risks of excessive alcohol consumption during medical visits.
“I have kind of wondered about alcohol,” wrote one MyMyelomaTeam member. “I don’t drink a lot anymore, but do enjoy a cocktail or wine when out to dinner or on weekends. I haven’t started any treatments yet, but what is common with alcohol consumption?”
“I will have a glass of wine every now and then,” said one member. “No alcohol for me,” said another.
Myeloma and alcohol appear to have a complicated relationship. One 2013 study found that consuming alcohol may be associated with a lower risk of multiple myeloma. One possible reason alcohol might have this effect is because small to moderate consumption helps reduce factors that can prompt inflammation, according to the International Myeloma Foundation. In particular, red wine might be an optimal choice for this purpose.
However, research shows that while light drinking might reduce myeloma risk, heavy alcohol use is linked to impaired immune function and increased susceptibility to infection, particularly bacterial pneumonia. It’s important to be aware of this threat to the immune system, as infection is a risk faced by people with myeloma.
Additionally, it’s important to consider how alcohol consumption can affect blood cells and bone marrow. Research shows that alcohol intake can have adverse effects on white blood cell counts, red blood cell health, and platelet function.
Drinking often and heavily can cause bone marrow suppression, which may be more of a challenge for people with multiple myeloma than for those in the general population. People with myeloma are already producing fewer white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Keep in mind that drinking heavily could put you at risk for several chronic conditions other than blood cancer. Generally, oncology professionals recommend being careful about your alcohol intake and having honest conversations with your doctors about your lifestyle, treatment plan, and goals for your quality of life.
Many people wonder how drinking alcohol may interfere with the treatment of multiple myeloma, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The National Cancer Institute emphasizes the importance of checking in with your cancer treatment team about the interaction of alcohol with your treatments. Health care professionals and caregivers who know your medical history, risk factors, and typical side effects are the best equipped to advise you on this topic.
Alcohol may also interact negatively with medications that you take during and after your myeloma treatments, and your health care team can help you understand whether this is a possibility with any drugs you’re taking. “My personal experience was that while on meds for multiple myeloma, any amount of alcohol, even a very small glass of wine, made me very ill,” one MyMyelomaTeam member wrote. Another said, “My doctor at my 100-day checkup said it was OK to have a glass of wine to celebrate my 100 days, and so I did.”
As you navigate cancer treatments and changes in your lifestyle, listen to your body and make your needs known to your treatment team. Your doctor’s job is to work with you and set realistic goals for adjustments that can improve your quality of life.
As you explore medical information and treatment options together, be open about environmental factors, such as the role drinking has played in your social life. Note any challenges you think you might face.
Deciding whether to stop drinking may not be easy, but if you decide to do so, you have more than 11,000 people to talk with who understand what it’s like to live with myeloma.
How has choosing to drink — or not drink — affected your myeloma? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMyelomaTeam.