The study warns there is no such thing as a safe amount of alcohol, and that the only way to protect one’s health is to abstain.
“All drinking involves risk,” said Dr. Jurgen Rehm, the co-author of the new study from Toronto University, in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) researcher reviewed global data on alcohol consumption. Artificial intelligence (AI) was used to link survey and sales data with relative cancer risk predictions based on intake.
According to this analysis, alcohol contributes to up to a quarter of all common cancers, most notably those of the breast and colon.
“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 for developing breast cancer,” noted Dr. Rehm.
The habit of opening a bottle of wine at the end of a long day has been nicknamed “wine-o-clock” culture. Consumption of alcoholic beverages has also increased as a result of shutdown stress.
“In our clinic, we are seeing many people who report increased alcohol use since the onset of the pandemic,” said Dr. Leslie Buckley, another co-author at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
“Although this may be related to temporary stressors, there is a potential for new habits to become more permanent. The consequences with alcohol use are often subtle harms initially that take time to show themselves, while long-term consequences such as cancer, liver disease and substance use disorder can be devastating.”
According to the findings, light and moderate drinkers will account for one in every seven (100,000) newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020. They did not exceed 14 units of alcohol each week, which is similar to six pints of beer or six medium glasses of wine. Alcohol was found to be associated with 24% of breast cancers, 20% of colon cancers, 15% of rectal cancers, and 13% of mouth, throat, and liver cancers in Canada.
“Alcohol causes cancer in numerous ways, however, the main mechanism is through impairing DNA repair. Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis and alcohol consumption leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, which causes breast cancer. Alcohol also increases the risk of head and neck cancer for smokers as it increases the absorption of carcinogens from tobacco,” said co-author Dr. Kevin Shield.
“Alcohol consumption causes a substantial burden of cancer globally, yet, the impact on cancers is often unknown or overlooked. This highlights the need for implementation of effective policy and interventions to increase public awareness of the link between alcohol use and cancer risk,” added Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, the co-author of the study and a cancer researcher at WHO.
“People should decrease their overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of alcohol-attributable cancers.”
The findings were published in Lancet Oncology.
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