New Evidence: Alcohol and Cancer

There is new evidence that even light drinking can slightly raise a woman’s risk of breast cancer and increase a common type of esophageal cancer. (1)

“The message is not, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start.’”

Dr. Noelle LoConte, associate professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Researchers reviewed earlier published studies and concluded that 5.5% of all new cancers and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide could be attributed to alcohol. The research stated clearly that alcohol plays a causal role in cancers of the throat and neck, voice box, liver and colon, as well as esophageal, squamous cell carcinoma and, in women, breast cancer.

For women, just one alcoholic drink a day can increase breast cancer risk. (2) Drinking a small glass of wine or beer every day — about 10 grams of alcohol — was shown to increase pre-menopausal breast cancer risk by 5% and postmenopausal risk by 9%. This from a report that looked at 119 studies of 112 million women. In the medical world, that is a massive piece of research.

“The more you drink, the higher the risk,” said Dr. Clifford A. Hudis. “It’s a pretty linear dose-response.”

One reason that alcohol may lead to cancer is because the body metabolizes it into acetaldehyde, which causes changes and mutations in DNA, a study author said. The formation of acetaldehyde starts when alcohol comes in contact with bacteria in the mouth, which may explain the link between alcohol and cancers of the throat, voice box and esophagus, she suggested.

Though this study looked at women, the cancer-alcohol connection is also present in men. In recent years there has been much publicity, even encouragement, to drink some alcohol as part of a healthy diet: Often wine, and often in connection with a Mediterranean-style diet. However, the the large scale of this meta-analysis (meaning it looks at the results of many studies), is extremely compelling and thought-provoking.

So be aware of the risks, and use moderation when drinking alcohol in any capacity.

(1) http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155
(2) http://www.aicr.org/continuous-update-project/reports/breast-cancer-report-2017.pdf

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