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Over 4% of new cancers caused by alcohol, study suggests

cancer alcohol

By Isabel Shaw

19 Jul 2021

Both heavy and moderate alcohol consumption among adults globally is now thought to have caused more than 740,000 (4.1%) cases of cancer last year, prompting researchers to call for more Government interventions.

The new study, published in the Lancet last week, found that regular drinking can cause a number of different cancers including oral, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, colon, rectum, liver, and female breast.

The study found that even moderate levels of alcohol consumption can cause cancer.

Drinking just 10g of alcohol a day – which is equivalent to a half pint contributed to between 35,400 and 145,800 cases globally in 2020, the data showed.

Men accounted for the 568,700 (77%) of alcohol-associated cancer cases globally last year, whereas women accounted for 23% of cases, with most cancer cases involving the oesophagus, liver and breast.

As well as raising public awareness around the dangers of the drug, researchers of the study also called for increased Government interventions to help reduce alcohol consumption among the public in all countries.

‘There is low awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer risk among the general public, but adding cancer warnings to alcohol labels, similar to those used on tobacco products, might deter people from purchasing alcohol products and increase awareness of the causal link with cancer, which could then confer increased public support for alcohol policies,’ researchers said.

They added: ‘With increases in alcohol consumption predicted until at least 2030 in several world regions, action must be taken to reduce the avoidable burden of cancer attributable to alcohol.’

To come up with the calculations, researchers used existing data on levels of alcohol intake per county in 2010 – so as to allow enough time for the possible cancers to develop. They combined this data alongside the estimated new cancer cases in 2010 to establish the number of alcohol associated cancers in each country.

The research found that countries in eastern Asia as well as central and eastern Europe were found to have the highest levels of cancer cases – around 6% – all of which could be connected with alcohol consumption. With the lowest proportion of alcohol associated cancer found in Northern Africa and Western Asia, both falling below 1%.

Researchers did point out that this year’s estimate of cancer-associated deaths is lower than previous yearly estimates, which they said could be the result of a decrease in alcohol consumption in many parts of southern, central and eastern Europe.

Previous studies estimated that of 5·5% of cancer cases in 2012 were linked to alcohol consumption, 4·8% of cancer deaths in 2016, and 4·9% of cancer deaths in 2019.

The main difference however, between the study this year and the studies in previous years, is that the previous studies focused on cancer mortality attributable to alcohol, whereas this study covered cancer incidence only.

Despite mounting evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic affected individuals’ total consumption of alcohol, researchers of the study said this would not have impacted the results as these drinking patterns would not yet affect current cancer rates but could be reflected in the next decades.


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