What causes 5.8% of deadly cancer worldwide?
5.8 percent of the world’s cancer deaths can be attributed to drinking, according to a new study conducted at the department of preventive and social medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Published in the journal Addiction, Jennie Connor’s research shows that drinking is basically a direct cause of at least seven types of cancers. “There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others, including head and neck cancer. Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths world-wide,” the study summarizes. “Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause,” states Connor.
“Although we have no clear scientific explanation to how alcohol causes cancer on the cellular and biological level, we can’t ignore the epidemiological evidence (the study of the causes of disease events in populations) of the association between alcohol and the increased frequency of these types of cancers in alcoholic consumers,” says Dr. Mufaddal Hamadeh, a medical oncologist affiliated with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill.
“While this research is different than the strong scientific evidence on how nicotine causes cancer on the cellular level, lack of strong data about alcohol and cancer is not a reason to ignore the observed relationship between these cancers and alcohol,” Dr. Hamedeh cautions.
Connor’s research identifies the following seven cancers as ones you have a better chance of avoiding by abstaining from alcohol, or by closely monitoring your alcohol consumption:
- Liver Cancer
It’s widely known that drinking damages the liver and this study further enhances what experts have known, alcohol can have a carcinogenic (cancer causing) effect on the liver. The American Cancer Institute states alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis, a condition that damages liver cells, causing a build-up of scar tissue, which increases the risk for liver cancer.
- Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer (Colorectal Cancer)
It may come as a surprise, but except for cancers of the lung, colon canceris the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and carrying excess weight have all been attributed to a greater risk for colon cancer, so add alcohol to that list.
Cancers of the rectum are closely associated with colon cancer, and also one that alcohol can lead to.
- Breast Cancer
There are some studies that suggest a very moderate intake of alcohol may have potential health benefits, but helping reduce the risk for breast cancer is not one of them. New research shows an even stronger link between alcohol and breast cancer.
- Laryngeal cancer
Also called your voice box, your larynx has the potential to be harmed by alcohol consumption. It’s located in your throat and holds your vocal cords, which are closely tied into your lungs.
- Esophageal cancer
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for cancers of the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.
- Oropharynx Cancer
The Oropharynx is another part of the throat and digestive system which can be harmed by drinking. It includes the base of your tongue, your tonsils, and other parts of your throat.
“While not all cancers are preventable, there is enough research to suggest that lifestyle choices can play a part in increasing or lowering your risk of certain types of cancers,” says Dr. Hamadeh. “If you don’t drink alcohol, there are no health benefits that outweigh potential risks. If you choose to enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time, proceed with caution. Anything over 5–8 ounces per day could increase your risk for certain types of cancers.”
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”