Moderate Drinking And Your Cancer Risk
Get plenty of exercise, eat heaps of greens, and steer clear of cigarettes. To reduce your risk of cancer, those are three science-backed recommendations you probably do your best to follow. But what if experts added "cut out the wine" to that list?
As tough as it is to swallow, a major new report offers a potent reminder of the strong link between alcohol and cancer. In short: Alcohol is responsible for around one of every 30 cancer deaths that occurs in the US each year. And even a drink a day increases your risk.
The research, published in theAmerican Journal of Public Health, is the first in three decades to offer such a comprehensive analysis of alcohol-related cancer deaths on a national scale. A collaborative effort between experts at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, and others, the study compiled data on rates of alcohol consumption and cancer mortality across hundreds of thousands of people. Experts then did some serious number crunching in an effort to determine the extent of alcohol's role in contributing to deaths from seven different types of cancer (including breast, colon, and liver).
Their conclusions, for anyone who enjoys a few drinks, are troubling. Alcohol is responsible for around 20,000 cancer deaths every year, or 3.5% of total cancer mortalities. And where breast cancer is concerned, alcohol accounts for 15% of all deaths.
Heavy drinkers face the biggest risk, but even low-key imbibers are increasing their odds of dying from cancer: The report found that those who consume 1.5 drinks a day or fewer account for 30% of all alcohol-related cancer deaths.
"The purpose of this study is not to stigmatize moderate drinking, and I apologize if this makes people feel bummed out," says lead study author Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher at BUSM. "But it is important for people to know that yes, alcohol is a carcinogen, and it does increase your risk. That's the bottom line."
As Dr. Naimi notes, alcohol has long been a known carcinogen, though its risks arguably haven't received the same widespread attention—from researchers, health officials, or the public—as factors like cigarettes or environmental toxins. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has more recently been bestowed with something of a health halo, with research linking the habit to heart health, stronger bones, and even a longer lifespan. But such findings (many of them preliminary) don't outweigh the established risks, Dr. Naimi says. "There is no compelling research showing that low-dose alcohol consumption is a preventive or therapeutic measure," he says. "Alcohol causes far, far more deaths than it prevents."
For those who don't currently drink, Dr. Naimi recommends that they don't start "because of potential health benefits." And among those who do enjoy a drink or two? Do your best to cut down.
Video: Alcohol: new risk of cancer even for moderate drinkers
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