Researchers have shown that alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths, even among moderate drinkers.
A report by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health, published in the April 2013 issue of American Journal of Public Health, indicates that reducing alcohol consumption is an important cancer prevention strategy as alcohol is a known carcinogen.
“The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasised even by physicians,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi from the Department of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, who served as the paper’s senior author. “Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”
Previous studies consistently have shown that alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver. More recent research has shown that alcohol also increases the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and female breast.
While estimates have shown that alcohol accounts for about 4 per cent of all cancer-related deaths worldwide, there is a lack of literature focusing on cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Dr. Naimi and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, examined recent data from the US on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol resulted in about 20,000 cancer deaths annually, accounting for about 3.5 per cent of all cancer deaths in the US.
Breast cancer was the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women, accounting for roughly 6,000 deaths annually, or about 15 per cent of all breast cancer deaths. Cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus were common causes of alcohol-attributable cancer mortality in men, resulting in a total of about 6,000 annual deaths.
The researchers also found that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost. In addition, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 percent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.