Alcohol consumption may increase risk of certain cancers, experts warn

Bryan Strickland
November 9, 2017

In a statement released Tuesday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) outlined research tying alcohol to two types of cancer and told Americans to drink less.

The statement provides evidence of a connection between light drinking and an increased risk of esophageal and breast cancer.

Heavy drinkers of both genders increase their risk of head and oral cancers by more than 500 percent because tissues come into direct contact with alcohol carcinogens.

Drinking in general, as well as problem drinking and heavy drinking, are increasing in the US and affect every segment of society, including older adults, women, ethnic and racial minorities, as well as the poor.

Yet few adults, when asked, identify alcohol consumption as a risk factor for cancer, even though the vast majority were familiar with other cancer risk factors, like smoking and sun exposure, a recent ASCO survey of 4,016 adults found.

The organization also wants to end the "pinkwashing" of alcoholic beverages. One such is a ban on advertising alcohol in the buses and subways of New York City that begins as of January 2018. "The good news is that, just like people wear sunscreen to limit their risk of skin cancer, limiting alcohol intake is one more thing people can do to reduce their overall risk of developing cancer".

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In the US, it is estimated that 3.5 per cent of all cancer deaths are linked to alcohol, and in 2012, 5.5 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses and 5.8 per cent of deaths worldwide were attributable to alcohol consumption.

The risk for heavy drinkers - defined as eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more a week for men, including binge drinkers - are multiples higher.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has raised the red flag, warning that the public is lacking education and understanding of the serious health risks of light to moderate drinking. "Don't start.' This is a little more subtle".

Drinking alcohol has always been associated with various health hazards including development of cancers in the body.

Dr. Anne McTiernan, a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who was an author of one of the earlier reports on alcohol and breast cancer, said she was pleased that oncologists were focusing on alcohol.

"The evidence is very clear", she said.

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