Alcohol a major cause of cancer

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The public’s awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer needs to improve, Irish researchers have said.


After smoking, obesity and physical inactivity, alcohol is a major cause of cancer and the proportion of alcohol-related deaths from cancer in Ireland is higher than the European average, the researchers warned.

They carried out a study which analysed the incidence of cancer deaths that were attributed to alcohol in Ireland over the 10-year period 2001 to 2010.

The study found that during this period, 4,585 (4.7%) male invasive cancer cases and 4,593 (4.2%) female invasive cases were attributable to alcohol.

The greatest risk was linked to cancers around the air and digestive tracts, including cancers of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus. These accounted for over half of the male cancer cases and at least one in three of the women’s cases.

In men, alcohol was also found to be responsible for 11% of rectal cancer cases, 7% of pancreatic cancer cases and 6% of colon cancer cases. In women, over 12% of breast cancer cases were attributable to alcohol – this amounts to over 300 cases per year.

When cancer deaths were analysed, the researchers found that 2,823 (6.7%) of male cancer deaths were attributable to alcohol, along with 1,700 (4.6%) female cancer cases.

“Public awareness of risk must improve. Over half of alcohol-related cancers are preventable by adhering to alcohol consumption guidelines. A public and health professional information campaign is needed to highlight the risk of alcohol on cancer,” the researchers said.

They insisted that such a campaign should reinforce the fact that drinking within Department of Health guidelines ’could prevent half of alcohol-related cancers’.

They added that women ’need to know about the risk of breast cancer from even low levels of consumption so that they can make an informed choice about their alcohol consumption’.

Details of these findings are published in the Irish Medical Journal.