Heavy Drinking Ups Risk Of Cancer In Mouth, Esophagus, Breast & Liver

A recent analysis of 156 research studies has found that moderate alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing several forms of cancer including cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, breast, colon, and liver.

The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine in 2004, involved the analysis of data from 156 studies involving a total of 116,702 individuals in order to determine the effects of alcohol consumption on cancer rates.

Researchers found that alcohol consumption was strongly associated with cancer of the larynx, esophagus, pharynx, and oral cavity. Alcohol consumption was also found to be weakly associated with cancer of the breast, liver, rectum, and colon.

At a level of 25g/day of ethanol consumption, the equivalent of two beers a day, there was an 86% greater risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, a 43% and 39% greater risk of cancers of the larynx and esophagus respectively, a 25% greater risk of breast cancer and a 19% greater risk of liver cancer. Cancers of the colon and rectum were only weakly associated with this level of alcohol consumption.

In those people that consumed 100g of ethanol per day, the equivalent of eight beers per day, the risk of cancer rose dramatically. Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx showed a 554% increase, cancer of the larynx and esophagus increased by 286% and 259% respectively, breast cancer by 141%, liver cancer by 81%, and rectal and colon cancers by 42% and 21% respectively.

Cancers in other areas such as the stomach, pancreas, and prostate were not found to be linked to alcohol use.

In total, studies estimate that around 3.6% of all cancers worldwide are attributable to alcohol consumption. The figure is 5.2% in men and 1.7% in women due to the large percentage of heavy drinkers being male. In women, breast cancers make up around 60% of the cancer cases attributable to alcohol.

Despite the increased risks, alcohol consumption is still a relatively minor cancer risk factor compared to other factors such as obesity and smoking. Cigarette and tobacco use is the single largest cause of cancer with an estimated 30% of all cancers worldwide attributable to cigarette smoking.