Study: Even minimal alcohol use associated with higher cancer risk

TOKYO — Alcohol is such a large part of so many cultures and societies across the globe. From weddings to sporting events, it’s hard to go to virtually any social gathering of people and not encounter alcohol. While the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption are well-documented, a new study conducted in Japan finds that even those who only indulge in one drink at a time are putting themselves at an increased risk of developing cancer.

According to the research, conducted by The University of Tokyo and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, overall cancer risk was lowest among individuals who had never drank alcohol in their entire lives.

Prior to this set of research, previous studies on the influence of alcohol on cancer development have produced varied results. Some studies had found alcohol use actually lowered one’s risk of developing certain types of cancer. Of course, others had found an association between moderate alcohol use and increased overall risk of cancer.

So, in an effort to better understand this relationship, this study’s research team examined a large set of data collected between 2005-2016 across 33 Japanese hospitals. In all, 63,232 patients with cancer were matched up and compared to the exact same number of non-cancer patients, based off of factors like sex, age, hospital admission date, and specific hospitals.

Each participant also reported how often they usually drank alcohol, as well as the typical duration and amount.

After finishing their analysis, the researchers observed a clear and steady increase in cancer risk the more alcohol participants reported drinking. They concluded that a person who drinks just one alcoholic beverage per day for 10 years, or two drinks per day for five years, would increase their overall risk of cancer by a significant 5%.

Even newer drinkers appear to be putting themselves at risk; regardless of how long one has been consuming alcohol, individuals drinking two or fewer alcoholic beverages per day were found to have an increased chance of developing cancer.

These findings stayed consistent across genders, smoking habits, and socio-economic classes. Alcohol-related cancer risks were also especially prominent in body regions such as the breasts, prostate, esophagus, stomach, and colorectum.

“In Japan, the primary cause of death is cancer,” says study author Dr. Masayoshi Zaitsu in a statement. “Given the current burden of overall cancer incidence, we should further encourage promoting public education about alcohol-related cancer risk.”

The study is published in the scientific journal CANCER.

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