Alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of certain types of physical injury and risky sexual behavior. Individuals who drink heavily often have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships or achieving professional or academic advancement. However, research is showing that there may be lifelong health risks associated with heavy use of alcohol.
A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that drinking alcohol, and especially drinking alcohol heavily, raises the risk of several types of cancer. The study was able to conclude after following hundreds of thousands of people in eight countries that nearly one in ten cancers in men and one in 33 in women can be traced to alcohol consumption.
Led by Madlen Schutze, an epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbruecke, the authors found that a high number of cancers detected occurred in men and women who drank more than two standard drinks per day among men and one per day among women.
The authors believe that the data provides significant evidence that supports a reduction in alcohol consumption, or even the avoidance of alcohol, in order to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Alcohol contributes to the risk of developing cancer because the body converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, which is a compound that damages DNA. When DNA is damaged, it can create an environment for cancer growth.
The researchers used estimates from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC), which is administered by the World Health Organization. EPIC includes information on over 300,000 men and women followed for cancer for two decades. When enrolled, the participants were between the ages of 37 and 70 and completed an assessment of diet and lifestyle, which included information about alcohol consumption.
The analysis of the EPIC data showed that in 2008 there were 21,500 cases of cancer in women and over 80 percent could be tied to drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day. The cancers tended to be related to the upper digestive tract, liver, colorectum and breast.
Men in 2008 reported about 57,000 cases of cancer, mostly diagnosed in the upper digestive tract, colorectum and liver. More than half of the cancers could be traced to more than two alcoholic drinks consumed per day.
The results of the study highlight the incidence of cancer in participants who drank above the normal recommended limit, but were not all classified as heavy drinkers. The evidence supports initiatives to significantly reduce alcohol consumption or choose to abstain from alcohol consumption.