Alcohol and Cancer
Perhaps no illness is more feared in the developed world than cancer as few direct causes have been identified, with the exception of cigarette smoking. However, research is increasingly showing that obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and heavy alcohol consumption increase our risk of contracting cancers of several kinds.
Scientists don’t know exactly why alcohol may increase the risk of developing some cancers, but research indicates that the following play a part:
However, the diseases where alcohol poses ‘significant risk’ at moderate levels of consumption are rare with the exception of breast cancer and for drinkers who also smoke. The four leading cancers in the UK are prostate, lung, colon and breast cancers (4% female deaths UK). As with most issues regarding alcohol – it is the quantity that is drunk which is important – drinking at meal times is best and avoiding binge drinking.
For example: ‘Alcohol As A Cause Of Cancer’ published by the Australian Cancer Institute in 2008 concluded that moderate alcohol consumption two drinks of alcohol (10g) per day does not increase the risk of cancer in general. However, four drinks per day increases the risk of cancer by 22%. High alcohol consumption (8 daily drinks) increases the risk of cancer at any site by 90%. Evidence is clear, that alcohol is carcinogenic for some types of cancer, and that the risk is dose dependent.
The full 500+ page report is available at: Cancerinstitute.org.au/cancer_inst/publications/pdfs/ pm-2008-03_alcohol-as-a-cause-of-cancer.pdf
There have been few studies describing the relation between varying levels of alcohol consumption and the total risk of cancer.
A paper published in the annals of oncology in May 2013 presents a meta-analysis that relates alcohol consumption to all-cancer mortality; it was based on almost 50,000 deaths reported in the literature from 18 prospective cohort studies. As expected, the reported average consumption of 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (equivalent to 4 or more typical drinks each day) was associated with an estimated 32% increased risk of dying from cancer, But, surprisingly, the analyses demonstrated a J-shaped curve for alcohol and cancer. Light drinkers (12g a day) showed a statistically significant 9% lower risk, moderate drinkers showed no effect, while heavier drinkers showed a 32% increased risk of all cancer mortality. Reference: Jin M, Cai S, Guo J, Zhu Y, Li M, Yu Y, Zhang S, Chen K. Alcohol drinking and all cancer mortality: a meta-analysis. Ann Oncol 2013;24:807-816. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mds508.
Breast Cancer (Click for more information)
Drinking and smoking combined
Smoking and drinking together greatly increases your risk of developing throat and mouth cancer than doing either on their own. That’s because when you drink alcohol it’s easier for the mouth and throat to absorb the chemicals in tobacco that cause cancer.
It’s also true with oesophageal (gullet) cancer. One study found that people who drank up to five units of alcohol and smoked up to eight cigarettes per day could increase their risk of oesophageal cancer between 13 (for men) and 19 times (for women).
Further information on alcohol and cancer
Please visit the gateway to sensible drinking and health, alcoholinmoderation.com for specific studies and summary papers.
Your GP can help you figure out if you should make any changes in your drinking, and offer help and advice along the way.
For advice on cancer-related issues, visit CancerHelp UK – www.cancerhelp.org.uk – the patient information website of Cancer Research UK. Their helpline operates 9am–5pm, Monday–Friday. Call 020 7061 8355 or freephone 0808 800 4040.
Macmillan cancer support www.macmillan.org.uk
Marie Curie cancer care www.mariecurie.org.uk
institute of cancer research www.icr.ac.uk/
© 2000 Alcohol in Moderation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.