Just two beers or glasses of wine a day raises the risk of bowel and gullet cancer by more than a fifth, according to new research.
People in the UK are above this threshold, guzzling an average of 2.1 drinks daily, placing them among the most vulnerable to two of the deadliest forms of the disease.
And anyone having four or more drinks a day is at increased risk of liver, gastric and pancreatic cancer - three more particularly lethal types.
The five cancers are the most common digestive cancers across the world, causing almost three million deaths a year, says the report by medical group United European Gastroenterology (UEG).
The study found the average alcohol consumption across 28 EU member states was ‘moderate’ - between one and four drinks a day.
But this was enough to place citizens at a heightened risk of both bowel and oesophageal, or gullet, cancer.
‘Heavy’ drinkers at risk
‘Heavy’ drinkers who get through more than four daily were more likely to develop pancreatic, liver and gastric cancer.
The UK was 8th in the league table of drinking, ahead of France and Germany where the average is two drinks.
In Ireland the figure is 1.9 drinks, which is also the average across the 28 EU nations. Lithuania topped the list, with average consumption of 3.2 drinks a day,
No countries within the EU were found to have ‘light’ alcohol consumption of less than one drink a day, on average.
Drinking across the region is higher than in any other area in the world, with over one fifth of the European population over the age of 15 drinking heavily at least once a week.
As a result, the continent suffers from the highest proportion of ill health and premature death directly linked to alcohol.
But despite this, as many as nine in ten people are unaware on the link between alcohol and cancer.
The researchers said consumers are provided with mixed messages on recommended units, glasses and volumes of alcohol, so they are calling for a unified approach to the provision of clear and consistent information.
Digestive health expert Professor Markus Peck, a member of UEG’s public affairs committee,, said; “One of the main challenges in addressing high drinking levels is how deeply embedded alcohol consumption is within the European society, both socially and culturally.
“Political action like minimum pricing and reducing access to alcohol needs to be taken now to prevent many future casualties.
“Research then has to follow to help generate data and allow us to fine-tune future political activity”.
The report said France is leading the way with stricter marketing coupled with regulations for drinking at work. This has led to a decline in alcohol consumption and cases of digestive cancer as a result.
Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), said: “These findings show clearly that because of current consumption levels in Britain we are some of the most at-risk people for developing these types of cancers.
“This is not surprising when enough alcohol is sold in England and Wales for every drinker to consume 50% more than the weekly limit recommended by the UK’s chief medical officers.
“Alcohol is a group one carcinogen and while the evidence shows any level of drinking increases cancer risk, this risk increases in line with the level of consumption.”
The AHA says alcohol-related health harm is so great, and awareness of the link between drink and cancer so low at just 10%, that alcohol manufacturers should be forced to put health warnings on the labels of cans and bottles.
It is also urging ministers to organise sustained campaigns to alert the public to the dangers of drinking and to introduce minimum unit pricing, as Scotland is seeking to do, in order to reduce overall consumption and damage to health.
Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research at Bowel Cancer UK, said about 11 out of every 100 cases of bowel cancer are believed to be linked to alcohol.
She said: “We know that 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, it’s the fourth most common cancer in the UK.
“There are several known factors that increase your risk of getting the disease.
“Some of these are things you can’t do anything about, for example, age and genetics.
“But you can make changes to your lifestyle to help stack the odds against bowel cancer.
“As well as cutting down on alcohol, also being a healthy weight, taking more exercise and stopping smoking will make a real difference.”
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies introduced strict new boozing guidelines last year with a man’s recommended weekly limit now 14 units, or six pints - the same as for women.