Drinking Alcohol Increases Cancer Risk: Accounts for 3.5 Percent of All Cancer Deaths

First Posted: Feb 15, 2013 01:44 PM EST

Put down that glass of wine. It may cause cancer, according to new research. Even if you just have two drinks a day, you could increase your risk of cancer.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first major analysis of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in more than 30 years. Researchers examined cancers associated with the mouth, and pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and female breast. They then examined surveys of more than 220,000 adults as well as 2009 U.S. mortality data and sales data on alcohol consumption.

Their findings were worrisome. The researchers discovered that 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths could be attributed to alcohol. Breast cancer itself accounted for the most common of the alcohol-related cancer deaths. Among men, cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus were the most common.

Alcohol use accounts for about 3.5 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths annually. Although most of them are attributed to people who drink more than three beverages a day, a third of these deaths could be associated with people who drink less. In 2009 alone, 18,000 to 21,000 people in the U.S. died of alcohol-related cancers.

Although the study certainly shows a relationship between drinking and cancer, how exactly alcohol contributes to cancer is unknown. Previous studies, though, have shown alcohol to affect estrogen levels in women or acting as a solvent to allow tobacco chemicals to get into the digestive tract. While other studies have shown alcohol in moderation, such as red wine, to have health benefits, the authors of the study were quick to note that alcohol causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents.

"The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians." said lead author, Timothy Naimi, in an interview with The Telegraph. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight."

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