Link Between Alcohol Use and Cancer Risk

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  • Published: 16 July 2021
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH GmbH
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Harriet Rumgay, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Lyon, France, and colleagues estimate that about 4 % (741,000 cases) of all global cancers first identified in 2020 were related to alcohol use. They present global, regional, and national estimates of the alcohol-related cancer burden in 2020.

The researchers used information compiled by IARC to select cancer types for which there is sufficient evidence of a causal relationship with the consumption of alcohol. Then, they obtained estimates of the incidence of different cancer types in different countries from the GLOBOCAN 2020 cancer statistics database. The researchers assumed a 10-year latency period between alcohol consumption and cancer diagnosis. Thus, they combined the cancer incident data with alcohol consumption estimates for 2010 obtained from the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health and risk estimates for alcohol consumption from the WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) Continuous Update Project. This allowed the team to estimate new cancer cases attributable to alcohol consumption.

About three-quarters of alcohol-attributable cancer cases involved men. With about 6 %, the estimated proportion was particularly high in central and eastern Europe and East Asia. North Africa and West Asia had the lowest rates. Heavy drinking and risky drinking accounted for the majority of alcohol-related cancers, while moderate drinking contributed to about 14 % of the cases. Moderate drinking behavior corresponds to 20 g of alcohol per day, i.e., about two small glasses of wine or half a liter of beer.

According to the researchers, alcohol damages human DNA and affects the hormone balance in the body, which can contribute to cancer. Particularly common in connection with alcohol are cancers of the esophagus, liver and, in women, breast cancer. The researchers advocate for effective policies and interventions to raise awareness of the cancer risks associated with alcohol consumption and to reduce overall alcohol consumption.



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Magazine of Chemistry Europe (16 European Chemical Societies) published by Wiley-VCH