TORONTO — Avoiding alcohol may do more than just keep your mornings hangover-free: it may protect you from cancer. Researchers say drinking just one glass of wine or beer a day increases cancer risk.
Scientists warn that there is no safe amount of alcohol, and abstaining from consumption is the only way to protect one’s health. “All drinking involves risk,” says co-author of the new study Dr. Jurgen Rehm, a mental health expert at Toronto University, in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) team used data on alcohol consumption across the globe. Artificial intelligence (AI) combined surveys and sales figures with relative estimates for cancer based on intake.
According to this study, booze fuels up to a quarter of common tumors — in particular, those of the breast and bowel. “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,” notes Dr. Rehm.
The habit of opening a bottle at the end of a busy day has been dubbed “wine-o-clock” culture. Drinking has also risen due to lockdown stress. “In our clinic we are seeing many people who report increased alcohol use since the onset of the pandemic,” says 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.”
Results show that light and moderate drinkers represent one-in-seven (100,000) newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020. They consumed no more than 14 units of alcohol per-week – equivalent to 6 pints of beer or 6 medium glasses of wine. In Canada, alcohol was linked to 24% of breast cancers, 20% of colon, 15% of rectal cancer and 13% of mouth, throat and liver cancers.
“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,” says 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,” adds co-author of the study Dr. Isabelle Soerjomataram, a cancer researcher at WHO. “People should decrease their overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of alcohol-attributable cancers.”
The study is published in Lancet Oncology.
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.