Heavy Drinking Raises Liver Cancer Risk

According to recent evidence, not only does heavy drinking increase the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, but it also increases the likelihood of an individual developing hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.

A recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2002, compared the alcohol consumption histories of 464 people who had been diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma to the drinking history of 828 control subjects who were free of hepatocellular carcinoma and other liver diseases.

The researchers found that as “peak” intake of alcohol increased, so did the odds of a person developing liver cancer. Peak intake was defined as the maximum intake of alcohol in a decade of an individuals lifetime.

In men, no significant correlation between alcohol and liver cancer was observed at levels less than 60g/day of ethanol. Those who consumed between 61 and 80g/day had 2.4 times greater odds of developing liver cancer than those who consumed no alcohol while those who consumed 81-100g/day of ethanol had 4.2 times greater odds of developing the disease. Those men who consumed the most ethanol (more than 140g/day) had 11 times greater odds of developing liver cancer. One can of beer typically contains between 10 and 15g of alcohol.

In women those who consumed between 60 and 80g of ethanol were 3.1 times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to women who did not drink while women who consumed more than 80g of ethanol per day were 16.5 times more likely to develop liver cancer.

Around 10% of the men in the study claimed to have consumed more than 140g of ethanol a day during their “peak” decade while around 5% of women claimed to have consumed more than 80g of ethanol per day. 140g/day of ethanol is the equivalent to a hefty 10 standard drinks of alcohol per day.

The researchers also looked at the participants age when drinking began and the duration of drinking however neither of these factors was associated with liver cancer.

The authors concluded that “the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma increased with increasing level of alcohol intake, irrespective of duration of consumption and age at start”.

It is believed that chronic consumption of ethanol may have carcinogenic effects on certain organs, especially the liver which must process the alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption also leads to cirrhosis of the liver which often leads to liver cancer.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of liver cancer making up over 90% of all liver cancers. Liver cancer carries an extremely poor prognosis with just 10% of people living for more than 5 years after diagnosis with the disease. Only pancreatic cancer has a worse 5 year survival rate.