In a recent study from the World Health Organization, scientists found an association between alcohol and a much higher risk of several forms of cancer, including breast, colon, and oral cancers.
An increased risk was evident even among light to moderate drinkers (up to two drinks a day), who represented 1 in 7 of all new cancers in 2020 and more than 100,000 cases worldwide.
In Canada, alcohol use was linked to 7,000 new cases of cancer in 2020, including 24% of breast cancer cases, 20% of colon cancers, 15% of rectal cancers, and 13% of oral and liver cancers.
The team says all drinking involves risk. And with alcohol-related cancers, all levels of consumption are associated with some risk.
For example, each standard-sized glass of wine per day is associated with a 6% higher risk of developing female breast cancer.
The modeling study was based on data on alcohol exposure from almost all countries of the world, both surveys and sales figures, which were combined with the latest relative risk estimates for cancer based on level of consumption.
The team says the main mechanism of how alcohol causes cancer is through impairing DNA repair.
Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis, and alcohol leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, leading to breast cancer.
Alcohol also increases the risk of head and neck cancer for smokers as it increases the absorption of carcinogens from tobacco.
The researchers say research into the link between light to moderate drinking and cancer is relatively new and that public policy does not yet reflect the degree of cancer risk.
They recommend higher taxes to fully reflect the burden of disease from alcohol.
Along with limiting the physical availability and marketing of alcohol, price controls are recognized as high-impact, cost-effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm.
For more information about cancer, please see recent studies about dairy food linked to higher risk of cancer, and results showing this herbal supplement may help treat lung cancer.
The study was published in Lancet Oncology and conducted by Dr. Jürgen Rehm et al.
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