ASCO Warns of Cancer Risks Associated with Alcohol Consumption
Moderate amounts – even as little as a glass of wine or beer a day -of alcohol consumption can increase your cancer risk, experts warn.
You’ve heard a glass of wine every day is good for you, but not every expert agrees with that. And now, there’s official word on how much alcohol is too much.
Public health authorities are increasingly taking note of drinking habits and the harmful use of alcohol. The WHO even paints a dire picture of the global effects of alcohol on human health. Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths every year result from the use of alcohol, and its harmful use is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.
And now, the latest addition is the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that has issued a statement identifying alcohol as a “definite” risk factor for cancer.
“Even modest use of alcohol may increase cancer risk, but the greatest risks are observed with heavy, long-term use,” write the ASCO statement authors, led by Noelle LoConte, MD, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Therefore, limiting alcohol intake is a means to prevent cancer,” Dr. LoConte said in a statement. “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.”
“People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes,” Dr. Bruce Johnson, the president of ASCO, said. Indeed, a recent survey from the organization found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t know that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for cancer.
“However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established,” Johnson said.
At least three drinks daily or eight weekly for women, and at least four days or 15 weekly for men increases the risk of head, neck and throat cancers five-fold, the American Society of Clinical Oncology said. Heavy drinking also more than doubles the chance of getting liver and voice box cancer.
Moderate drinking — up to one drink a day for women and two for men — carries a 23 percent increased the risk of breast cancer and 17 percent increased the risk of colon cancer, the group said.
Overall, about 3.5 percent of the 600,000 annual cancer deaths in the U.S. are alcohol-related, the doctors said.
Moderate amounts, defined by the Centers for Disease Control as one daily drink for women and two for men, face nearly a doubling of the risk for mouth and throat cancer and more than double the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, compared to nondrinkers. Moderate drinkers also face elevated risks for cancers of the voice box, female breast cancer and colorectal cancers.
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. Heavy drinkers face roughly five times the risk of mouth and throat cancers and squamous cell esophageal cancers than nondrinkers, nearly three times the risk of cancers of the voice box or larynx, double the risk of liver cancer, as well as increased risks for female breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
For the statement, ASCO researchers reviewed earlier published studies and concluded that 5.5 percent of all new cancers and 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide could be attributed to alcohol. The paper 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.
One of the biggest problems with the findings is the reality that most people just don’t see drinking as a cancer or major health risk factor unless it’s truly out of control. To reverse the trend, ASCO suggests a number of measures to fight cancer deaths from alcohol, including by limiting sales through increased taxes and incorporating alcohol control strategies into cancer patients’ care plans.
“It’s sort of like selling cigarettes to raise awareness for lung cancer,” LoConte said.