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Apr 18, 2011

Cancer Risk Found to Increase with Moderate Alcohol Intake

A large European study published recently in BMJ found that the consumption of alcohol, both currently or in the past, is correlated with a significant proportion of the most common and lethal cancers.  About 10% of total cancers in men and 3% in women are thought to be related to alcohol consumption.  The data being analyzed to make such estimates is coming from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer (EPIC) and World Health Organization (WHO).  The EPIC is a long-term study encompassing more than 500,000 people in Europe.  Researchers suggested that alcohol was responsible for 44% of upper aerodigestive tract (oral cavity, throat, esophagus) cancers in men and 25% in women, 33% of liver cancer in men and 18% in women, 17% colorectal cancer in men and 4% in women, and 5% of breast cancer in women. 

Many health organizations, including the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, currently recommend that men limit their alcoholic intake to 2 drinks per day while women limit theirs to 1 drink per day.  Although the data revealed a significant number of cancers to be correlated with high intake of alcohol, the remaining cancers were still correlated with drinking levels at or below current recommendations.  Researchers are convinced that cancer risk increases with each drink.  According to Sara Hiom, the director of health information at Cancer Research UK, “Cutting back on alcohol is one of the most important ways of lowering your cancer risk,” in addition to not smoking and keeping a healthy bodyweight.  In regard to the potential cardiovascular benefits that have been suggested with light alcohol intake, the researchers respond, “Even though light to moderate alcohol consumption might decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality, the net effect is harmful.”  Results from this study as well as the British Million Women Study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2009) are in agreement that there is no amount of alcohol consumption that can be considered harmless.    

Dr. Shana McQueen