Alcohol consumption guidelines inadequate for cancer prevention

July 11, 2011

Current alcohol consumption guidelines are inadequate for the prevention of cancer and new international guidelines are needed, states an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Guidelines in some countries are not currently based on evidence for long-term harm. Most guidelines are based on studies that assessed the short-term , such as social and psychological issues and hospital admissions, and were not designed to prevent chronic diseases. As well, in some countries, alcohol producers were either part of working groups defining sensible drinking or instrumental in dissemination of the guidelines.

There is increasing evidence that links to cancer. The WHO International Agency of Research on Cancer has stated, based on evidence, that alcohol is carcinogenic in both animals and humans. Several evaluations of this agency as well the joint 2007 report of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research warned of the link between alcohol and cancers in the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon-rectum and breast cancers. Based on the evidence, "there is no level of alcohol consumption for which cancer risk is null."

"On the whole, alcohol is considered an avoidable risk factor for and, more generally, for the global burden of disease," writes Dr. Paule Latino-Martel, French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), with coauthors from the French Institute for Prevention and Health Education (INPES) and the French (INCa).

"Although drinking guidelines used in the context of a brief intervention have proven effective" to help people who have problems due to their drinking habits to reduce their alcohol consumption, they are inadequate to prevent all types of risks including cancer risk. Therefore, "their application to the general population should be revisited," write the authors.

Canadian guidelines for "low-risk" consumption, set in 1997 at 9 drinks per week for women and 14 per week for men, may be modified when Canada releases its first national guidelines later in 2011.

"Although guidelines are currently practical for health professionals and health authorities, the time has come to reconsider them using a scientific basis independent of any cultural and economic considerations and to discuss the eventuality of abandoning them," conclude the authors. "Considering our current knowledge of the relationship between alcohol consumption and , national health authorities should be aware of the possible legal consequences of promoting drinking guidelines that allow consumers to believe that drinking at low or moderate levels is without risk."

Explore further: The role that alcohol drinking may play in the risk of cancer

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3 comments

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Argon
1 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2011
I'd like to propose a toast: to cancer?
ziphead
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2011
"there is no level of alcohol consumption for which cancer risk is null"

I have heard this sentence brought up so many times and still dont get it; how does argument like this adds to the weight of this (or any discussion for that matter)? There is no day in life during which probability of dying is null either. So what can we conclude from that?

What matter is how much the risk increases as the consumption increases. This is where the prophets of cancer doom get a little obtuse.

What would also help if the research looked at the overall long-term mortality instead of focusing on few organs and specific conditions. They do not do it because then the picture is much more complicated. And we do not want the complexity of facts to get in the way of our newest health crusade, do we?
Argon
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2011
At least alcohol use has a long and glorious tradition, rather better to die from it than from some new prescription drug that no one knows anything about and has only existed for less than a decade.

Just wait a while and they will say that wearing clothing with synthetic dyes is causing cancer or perhaps Alzheimer's or maybe sterility. What else? Is salt still bad for you or is that ok now? Caffiene? Spinach? Prunes? Beets? Don't tell me that distilled water gives you cancer, what, because it's in a plastic jug? Huh! Where does it end? Life is dangerous! I accept that fact: I choose to live without fear, it's just better that way! Does not mean to choose folly or wisdom, just means I'm not paranoid!

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