Alcohol linked with 4% of cancers diagnosed in 2020, research finds

Moderate drinking blamed for up to 14% of all alcohol-associated cancer cases

Men account for 77 per cent of alcohol-associated cancer cases, with risky and heavy drinking blamed for the majority, the survey found. Photograph: Jessica Gow/AFP/Getty Images

Men account for 77 per cent of alcohol-associated cancer cases, with risky and heavy drinking blamed for the majority, the survey found. Photograph: Jessica Gow/AFP/Getty Images

 

Four per cent of cancers diagnosed last year may be associated with drinking too much alcohol, new global research published in the Lancet Oncology has reported.

Men account for 77 per cent of alcohol-associated cancer cases, with risky and heavy drinking – defined as more than two drinks per day – blamed for the majority.

However, moderate drinking – up to two daily drinks each day – is blamed for up to 14 per cent of all cases, include cancers of the oesophagus, liver and breast.

Alcohol causes DNA damage by spurring the production of harmful chemicals and affecting hormone production. It also worsens the cancer-causing effects of other substances such as tobacco.

The link with alcohol is highest in central and eastern Europe, and eastern Asia, up to 6 per cent of cases. By contrast, less than 1 per cent of northern Africa and western Asia cancer cases are linked to alcohol.

Ireland was not referenced as a standalone country in the study, but 4 per cent of the cases found in the United Kingdom and Germany are linked to alcohol, and 5 per cent of those in France.

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have affected diagnostic rates, so last year’s numbers are likely to be an underestimation, but this will not affect the study’s overall accuracy.

Alcohol dependency

Meanwhile, The Lancet research comes as Health Research Board (HRB) reported a fall of 23 per cent in the numbers treated for alcohol dependency in 2020, explained by the closure of clinics during lockdown.

More than 7,500 people were treated for alcohol dependency in 2019 compared with just over 5,800 last year, as reported by the National Drug Treatment Reporting System.

Men represented 62 per cent of cases last year, while almost half were unemployed. The median age was 41 years, while Travellers accounted for 2.1 per cent of cases, down slightly from 2.7 per cent in 2014.

Meanwhile, homeless people made up 8.5 per cent of cases recorded, a rise from 6.4 per cent six years previously. Nearly a quarter of those receiving treatment also used other drugs.

Cannabis is the most common, linked to 55 per cent of cases. However, cocaine use has risen significantly, up from less than 30 per cent of cases in 2014 to 54 per cent in 2020.