Healthy living

Alcohol linked to range of cancers

Alcohol linked to range of cancers 13,000 cases annually in UK

Around one in ten cancers in men and one in 33 three cancers in women in Western Europe are caused by drinking alcohol, according to new research.

Past studies have linked drinking alcohol with cancers of the liver, female breast, bowel, and upper digestive tract, but none have calculated the number, or proportion of cases caused by drinking over the recommended guidelines.

Experts tracked the health of 363,988 men and women from eight European countries, including the UK. All were aged between 37 and 70, at the start of the study in the mid 1990s and completed detailed questionnaires on diet, lifestyle and alcohol consumption.

A 'substantial proportion' of alcohol-related cancers occurred in men who drank more than two standard drinks a day and women who drank more than one standard drink a day, the researchers said.

A standard drink in the study contained around 12g of alcohol, equivalent to a 125ml glass of wine.

However, in the UK, the NHS advises that men should drink no more than 3 - 4 units of alcohol a day and women no more than 2 - 3 units a day for low risk drinking. One unit is defined as 8g of alcohol.

The study calculated that in 2008, current and past drinking by men was responsible for about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, bowel, and liver in Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain.

And over half of these cases (33,000) were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

Alcohol consumption by women in the eight countries caused around 21,500 cases of upper digestive tract, liver, bowel, and breast, the study found.

And eight out of ten - some 17,400 cases - was due to women drinking more than one standard drink of beer, wine, or spirits per day.

Cancer Research UK, who helped to fund the study, said that alcohol is responsible for at least 13,000 cases of cancer a year.

Dr Madlen Sch├╝tze, an epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, who led the study, said: "Our data show that many cancer cases could have been avoided if alcohol consumption is limited to two alcoholic drinks per day in men and one alcoholic drink per day in women.

"And even more cancer cases would be prevented if people reduced their alcohol intake to below recommended guidelines or stopped drinking alcohol at all."

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

This article was published on Fri 8 April 2011

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