One in 25 cancers is linked to alcohol consumption, with men accounting for three quarters of cases, according to a global study in Lancet Oncology.
“Public health strategies, such as reduced alcohol availability, labelling alcohol products with a health warning, and marketing bans could reduce rates of alcohol-driven cancer,” says Harriet Rumgay of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, also recommending higher taxes and minimum pricing.
The estimates would mean 740,000 cancer cases globally were linked to alcohol last year, with heavy drinkers contributing bar far the most. But there is no risk-free level of alcohol drinking and cancer. Low-level drinkers were one-in-seven of alcohol-linked cancer cases.
“It is safest not to drink alcohol, but if you do, you should stick to the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk guidelines which is to drink no more than 14 units a week [or 140ml of alcohol] on a regular basis,” said Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the UK’s Alcohol Health Alliance.
Cancers of the oesophagus, liver, and breast accounted for most of the cases. Alcohol damages DNA and affects hormone production, which can contribute to cancer development, as well as worsen the cancer-causing effects of substances like tobacco.
In the UK the alcohol-lined cancer rate was the global average of 4%, with 16,800 cases; The US, 3%, with 52,700 cases; China 6%, 282,300; Germany 4%, 21,500 cases; and France 5%, 20,000 cases. The percentage of alcohol-linked cancer cases were reckoned to be highest in Mongolia, at 10%, from 560 cases, and lowest in Kuwait, where it was 0%, with just a few cases.
The study made its estimate by looking at alcohol intake in 2010 and the number of cases of cancers known to be linked to alcohol last year. Some suspect the research may underestimate alcohol’s contribution to cancer cases, because a quarter of alcohol purchases are not captured by government figures. ■