Alcohol and Cancer
Drinking alcohol is a direct cause of at least seven forms of cancer, and the more you drink, the higher your risk, a new analysis found.
The report’s author said she hoped to cut through the barrage of studies and stories that can leave readers with conflicting views of alcohol’s effects.
After all, isn’t a nightly glass of wine supposed to be good for you?
“There is no argument, on current evidence, for a safe level of drinking with respect to cancer,” , the author and a professor of epidemiology at Otago University in New Zealand, wrote in the analysis, published Thursday in the scientific journal Addiction.
She added that studies touting the perceived health benefits of casual drinking are “seen increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant,” given the rising risks of a range of cancers.
Connor’s report found there is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer of the liver, colon, rectum, esophagus, larynx, pharynx and female breast.
“Alcohol consumption is one of the most important known risk factors for human cancer and potentially one of the most avoidable factors, but it is increasing worldwide,” the authors of that study wrote.
U.S. alcohol producers pushed back against Connor’s analysis.
“To declare that alcohol definitively causes cancer based upon cherry-picked epidemiology articles lacks scientific credibility,” Sam Zakhari, senior vice president of scientific affairs for Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade group, said in an emailed statement.
“Cancer is a complex disease that is not yet entirely understood and requires more research,” he said.
Connor’s report noted the risks of getting cancer from drinking is highest among , a group roughly defined as men who drink more than four alcoholic beverages a day, and women who drink more than three.
In the U.S., one drink is equal to a 12 ounce can of beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, according to the American Cancer Society.
Those risks multiply for people who both drink and regularly smoke, particularly when it comes to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus, Connor said.
That doesn’t mean people who drink are necessarily doomed to get those cancers. And there’s some evidence that people who ditch alcohol can reduce their risks of liver, laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers, according to the Addiction report.
Still, Connor noted that, while heavy drinkers face higher cancer risks, low to moderate drinkers still experience a “considerable burden” of health hazards from alcohol. Yet many people don’t know about the risks, a problem Connor partly attributed to the news of alcohol’s potential benefits.
In an interview with the Guardian, Jana Witt, a health information officer at Cancer Research U.K., applauded the study and offered a few simple tips for lowering alcohol consumption.
“Having some alcohol-free days each week is a good way to cut down on the amount you’re drinking,” Witt said. “Also, try swapping every other alcohol drink for a soft drink, choosing smaller servings or less alcoholic versions of drinks, and not keeping a stock of booze at home.”
This article was updated to include comment from Distilled Spirits Council.