Cutting back on alcohol can prevent cancer, experts claim

The call to action of ASCO follows a survey the group commissioned, which showed that 70 percent of Americans do not recognize the drinking of alcohol as a risk factor for cancer.


A large organization of cancer doctors has a call to action to minimize the consumption of alcohol.

With a recently released position paper, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), hopes to draw attention to the strong links between drinking alcohol and the risk for several types of cancer.

“People are not aware of this,” said Susan Gapstur, vice-president of the American Cancer Society, who was not involved with the statement.

In a telephone interview, Gapstur stresses that people living with cancer remain at risk for other forms of cancer, so it is important that they realize that alcohol’s role in cancer recurrence, also.

The call to action of ASCO follows a survey the group commissioned, which showed that 70 percent of Americans do not recognize the drinking of alcohol as a risk factor for cancer. In fact, the consumption of alcohol is known to increase the risk of various forms of cancer, including head and neck, esophageal, liver, colorectal and female breast cancer.


Alcohol is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Approximately 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. – over 19,500 death are alcohol related, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ASCO statement, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, note that, while the greatest risks are seen with severe, long-term use, even at low consumption of alcohol (defined as less than one drink per day) or moderate use (up to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women, because they absorb and metabolize it differently) can increase the risk of cancer.

Among women, moderate 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 glasses per day have a 63 percent increased risk of female breast cancer, because alcohol raises the levels of the female sex hormone estrogen.

Dr. Noelle LoConte, a member of the ASCO prevention committee, who is the lead author of the position paper, told Reuters Health that “pink washing,” or the exploitation of the color pink, to strive to find a cure for breast cancer, leads the people to buy pink bottles of liquor during the breast cancer awareness month. They think that they help to fight against breast cancer, but nothing is further from the truth, ” she said.

Heavy drinkers of both genders have an increased risk of head and neck and oral cancer with more than 500 percent, because the tissues come in direct contact with alcohol carcinogens.

ASCO also notes that alcohol can exacerbate the effects of smoking. In addition, alcohol abuse can complicate outcomes in patients with cancer by contributing to a prolonged recovery, more hospitalizations and increased surgical procedures.


All forms of alcohol, or alcohol (beer, wine, champagne or shots, cause the same cancer risk.

“The consumption of Alcohol is one of the most difficult diet factors to accurately determine. Most people do not know how much they have drunk (in terms of us), or how much alcohol is in what they drink. And most do not accurately remember how often they drink,” Dr. Anne McTiernan, a cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told Reuters Health by e-mail. McTiernan is also on the advisory committee that oversees the work of the World Cancer Research Fund.

In the united states, 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol is found in 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 dl red or white wine and 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof liquor.

LoConte told Reuters Health by phone she hopes oncologists can be a “loud voice for change in the policy.”

Preventing cancer is just as important as the treatment of it, ” she said, adding, “We hope that this paper makes a splash with other doctors, so that they can get alcohol prevention on their radar.”

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