Alcohol’s hidden side effect?
While the health benefits of consuming responsible amounts of alcohol have been getting a fair share of positive headlines in recent years, new studies have also shown some serious health problems associated with drinking.
Recently, a group of doctors called attention to one that may surprise many – the ties between alcohol and cancer.
Last year, for the first, time, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released a statement in the Journal of Clinical Oncology to call attention to the “unappreciated” relationship.
According to the statement, in 2012 5.5 percent of all new cancer occurrences and 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide were estimated to be attributable to alcohol. In the U.S., it has been estimated that 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths are attributable to drinking alcohol.
The ASCO said several studies found alcohol use could cause:
- Oropharyngeal and larynx cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Hepatocellular carcinoma
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
Still, the ties between alcohol and cancer are relatively unknown. A 2017 ASCO study showed only 30 percent of Americans polled recognized alcohol consumption as a cancer risk factor.
This examination of the role alcohol has in cancers comes during a time where the number of adults who binge drink – or drink more than four to five drinks per occasion – has increased during the past decade. According to the ASCO, an estimated 13 percent of the US adult population engaged in extreme binge drinking on at least one occasion in the previous year.
The statement notes the greatest risks are observed with heavy, long-term use. Those who drink eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men face roughly five times the risk of mouth and throat cancers alone. It also points out the possible carcinogenic effects of alcohol are still being tested and discovered.
Dr. Fari Barhamand, an oncologist and hematologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. says the messages of negative health effects caused by alcohol are often hard to present to the public because drinking is ingrained in cultures around the world.
“The medical community is aware of the ills alcohol can bring, including cancer, but few take the time to counsel their patients and get the message across,” he says. “Craft beer and cocktails are growing in popularity, and it is important for the medical profession to remind patients that alcohol is a carcinogen to be avoided as much as possible.”
Dr. Barhamand advises his patients drink one or two alcoholic beverages per week, but realizes that is unrealistic for many.
“The difficulty comes in when we say it is okay to drink light, but no long-term studies have looked at how many years it is safe to drink or what the long-lasting effects could be, so the message about alcohol as a cancer-causing agent gets lost,” he says.
About the Author
Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.