New review concludes that evidence for alcohol causing cancer is strong

July 21, 2016, Society for the Study of Addiction
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new review of epidemiological evidence supports a causal association between alcohol consumption and cancers at seven sites in the body: oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and female breast. This is a stronger statement than the long-recognised association between alcohol and cancer. An association means there is a relationship of some kind between the two variables. A causal association means there is evidence that alcohol consumption directly causes cancer.

The causal link was supported by evidence for a dose-response relationship, at least partial reversal of risk when is reduced, statistical adjustment for other factors that might explain the association, and specificity of the association with some cancers and not others.

The for these conclusions comes from comprehensive reviews undertaken in the last 10 years by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Global Burden of Disease Alcohol Group, and the most recent comprehensive meta-analysis undertaken by Bagnardi and colleagues*, building on meta-analyses of the effect of alcohol on single cancers.

The review cites evidence that alcohol caused approximately half a million deaths from in 2012, 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide. The highest risks are associated with the heaviest drinking, but a considerable burden is experienced by drinkers with low to moderate consumption.

The review also finds the current that moderate drinking provides protection against cardiovascular disease is not strong.

The review is published online today by the scientific journal Addiction.

Explore further: Alcohol consumption contributes to cancer, even in moderate drinkers

More information: Connor J (2016) Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction 111: DOI: 10.1111/add.13477

*Bagnardi V, Rota M, Botteri E, Tramacere I, Islami F, Fedirko V, et al. Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose-response meta-analysis. Br J Cancer. 2015;112(3):580-93.

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7 comments

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SamB
1 / 5 (4) Jul 21, 2016
So I imagine there are very high cancer rates in France, right? NO, wrong! France has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world and has one of the lowest cancer rates in the world. Same with Estonia. Same with Belarus. I could go on but you get the idea. Very poorly researched article if you ask me.
IronhorseA
1 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2016
I can see another 1800BadDrug commercial already. D~
humy
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 22, 2016
...France has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world and has one of the lowest cancer rates in the world. ....


That cannot be validly used to draw any conclusions about the causal relation between alcohol consumption and cancer rates since that doesn't filter out all other possible causal factors. How do you know that they get less cancer not because the drink more alcohol but rather they either on average smoke less or do more exercise or have a healthier overall diet etc despite the alcohol consumption?
In other words, how do you know that they get less cancer NOT because of more alcohol but DESPITE more alcohol because other causal factors more than compensate for the unfavorable effects of more alcohol?
-you cannot know this since you haven't done this research.

Very poorly researched article if you ask me.

That opinion of yours accounts for nothing here since you have just given a very poorly thought out implied false inference.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2016
So I imagine there are very high cancer rates in France, right? NO, wrong! France has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world and has one of the lowest cancer rates in the world. Same with Estonia. Same with Belarus. I could go on but you get the idea. Very poorly researched article if you ask me.


With 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide, considering how much people do drink alcohol, the effect of alcohol on cancer is practically miniscule. It's easily overridden by a multitude of factors, such as how often you fly in an airplane, or whether you live on top of uranium containing rocks that emit radon.

It means the people who are at a significant risk of alcohol induced cancer are invariably sooner dead from simply drinking so much of it.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2016
Basically, about 40% of people will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime with lung, breast, prostate and colon cancers being the most prevalent. About 20-25% of people ultimately die of cancer.

Live long enough, and pretty much everyone gets cancer because it's inevitable that copying errors and mutations in DNA accumulate over time anyways. Hence the high prevalence of cancer.

So the risk of alcohol induced cancers is about 1 in 40 and the risk of death from alcohol induced cancer is 1 in 70, and the majority of the cases are due to heavy drinkers. Most people have a lower risk, perhaps 1 in 100 or less.

It's one of those things that show up on a statistical level, but is practically irrelevant on a personal level. You are probably going to die of cancer, but not because you drank alcohol.

SamB
2 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2016
How do you know that they get less cancer not because the drink more alcohol but rather they either on average smoke less or do more exercise or have a healthier overall diet etc despite the alcohol consumption?

I agree there may be other causes of the low cancer rates other than alcohol consumption, but before I wrote an article demeaning booze, I would have done a comprehensive study on why so many countries who consume large amounts of alcohol have such low cancer rates.
Then I could say "New review concludes that evidence for lack of exercise causing cancer is strong"
Alcohologist
not rated yet Jul 25, 2016
What causes problems, IS ONE. Alcohol and cancer links have been proven in evidence-based studies since the 1980's. Readers of alcohologist.com content have had all the studies at the foundation of this report since the start of this decade. In fact, the catalyst for this report was The A-Files: Alcohol A-Z video series and it's predecessor series, The Sobriety :60 in the Alcohology app for Android, both of which predate this latest flurry of news activity. That any consumption of a toxin and known carcinogen causes cancer is not the earth-shattering news: That mainstream media outlets beholden to alcohol advertisers are actually running the story is the real development here.

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