Even light drinking can increase cancer risk, study reports

A new study shows the direct link between alcohol and cancer.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reports that alcohol consumption heavily increases a person’s risk for cancer, according to a new study in the Journal of Oncology.

This discovery follows a survey that found 70 percent of Americans do not recognize drinking alcohol as a risk factor for cancer. That is concerning because alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of several cancers, including head, neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal.

Alcohol is officially classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Roughly 3.5 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths — roughly 19,500 deaths — are related to alcohol. While the greatest risks are linked to heavy, long-term use, even low alcohol consumption (defined as less than one drink per day) or moderate consumption (up to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women) can increase risk.

In addition, researchers found that, among women, light drinkers have a four percent increased risk of breast cancer, while moderate drinkers have a 23 percent increased risk of the disease. Heavy drinkers who consume more than eight drinks a day have a 63 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

Both men and women who drink heavily have a much greater chance of head, neck, and oral cancers as well because those tissues come into direct contact with alcohol carcinogens.

“Alcohol consumption is one of the most difficult dietary factors to accurately ascertain,” Anne McTiernan, a cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.”Most people don’t know how much they’ve drunk (in terms of ounces), or how much alcohol is in what they drink. And most don’t accurately recall how often they drink.” 

Researchers hopes to draw attention to the strong links between drinking alcohol and risks for several types of cancer. They hope studies such as this one could help more people understand the risks of drinking and perhaps lead to new policy changes as well.

“The more you drink, the higher the risk,” said Clifford A. Hudis, the chief executive of ASCO who was not involved in the research, according to The New York Times. “It’s a pretty linear dose-response.”

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