Alcohol Linked to Cancer, Death

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

It’s popularly believed that moderate drinking may be beneficial but a new study finds that alcohol consumption accounts for a considerable portion of cancer and mortality. A British study, meanwhile, compared the risks of drinking alcohol to smoking cigarettes.

In the U.S. on average, the study found, alcohol consumption accounted for 4.8% of cancer cases and 3.2% of cancer deaths, or about 75,200 cancer cases and 18,950 cancer deaths annually, during 2013 to 2016.

By sex, alcohol-related cancer cases and deaths for most evaluated cancer types were higher among men, in part reflecting higher levels of alcohol consumption among men.

The proportion of alcohol-related cancers was far greater for some individual cancer types. For oral cavity/pharyngeal cancer cases, for example, it ranged from 36% in Utah to 62.5% in Delaware and was 45% or more in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The article, which appears in Cancer Epidemiology, states that the proportion of cancer cases attributable to alcohol consumption ranged from a high of 6.7% in Delaware to a low of 2.9% in Utah. Similarly, Delaware had the highest proportion of alcohol-related cancer deaths (4.5%) and Utah had the lowest (1.9%).

In other words …

The authors of a British study wanted to compare the cancer risk of drinking to smoking. They estimated that in non-smoking men, the absolute lifetime risk of cancer – that is, the risk of developing cancer during one’s lifetime – associated with drinking one bottle of wine per week is 1.0%. For women, it is 1.4%.

Thus, if 1,000 men and 1,000 women each drank one bottle of wine per week, around ten extra men and 14 extra women may develop cancer at some point in their life. In men, most of the risk was in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, whereas in women, 55% of cases were associated with breast cancer.

“It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast. Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public,” said Dr. Theresa Hydes of University Hospital Southampton NHS.

“We aimed to answer the question: Purely in terms of cancer risk – that is, looking at cancer in isolation from other harms – how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine? Our findings suggest that the ‘cigarette equivalent’ of a bottle of wine is five cigarettes for men and ten for women per week,” she added.

James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.