Alcohol linked to 10% of cancer cases, study finds

Sat, Apr 9, 2011, 01:00

REDUCING ALCOHOL intake would reduce the number of cancer cases in the Republic, the Irish Cancer Society has said.

It was responding to the results of a major European study, published online by the British Medical Journal, which found that up to one in 10 cancers in men and one in 33 in women could be caused by drinking.

Researchers concluded that drinking above recommended alcohol limits was likely to be responsible for the majority of cancer cases linked to alcohol, although for some people even a small consumption may increase the risk.

They analysed data from eight European countries, involving more than 360,000 men and women who were aged between 35 and 70 at the beginning of the study.

The research is part of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer, one of the largest ever studies into the links between diet and cancer.

Some 17 per cent of bowel cancers in men were linked to drinking, as were 4 per cent of cases in women. And 5 per cent of cases of breast cancer in women were also linked to drinking, the study showed. Overall, more than 18 per cent of cancers in men were down to drinking more than 24g of alcohol a day. In women, 4 per cent of cancers were due to drinking more than 12g of alcohol daily.

Naomi Allen, from Oxford University, one of the researchers, said: “This research supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts.

“The results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about 10 years ago. People are drinking even more now, and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future.”

Men and women in Germany, Denmark and the UK were most likely to exceed recommended alcohol intake guidelines, which also looked at people in France, Italy, Spain, Greece and the Netherlands.

Dr Sinéad Walsh, research officer with the society, said: “We recommend that to reduce the risk of developing cancer, people should try to avoid or limit their intake of alcohol. We recommend that, in line with the European Cancer Research Fund guidelines, men should have no more than two standard drinks per day and women no more than one standard drink.”

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there is a causal link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the liver, female breast, bowel, and upper digestive tract.

Alcohol also plays a role in the development of oral cancers, including cancer of the pharynx and larynx.

However, until now, data had not been available on the number of cancer cases linked to total alcohol consumption or the proportion of cases caused by alcohol consumption beyond the recommended upper limit.

When broken down by the body, alcohol produces a chemical that can damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer.