- Published on Friday, 15 February 2013 13:16
New study finds that even low levels of alcohol consumption -- just 1.5 drinks per day -- is a major factor in cancer deaths, causing years of life lost to illness.
A study team that includes a BU medical and public health researcher has shown that alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths and years of potential life lost. The findings, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, also show that reducing alcohol consumption is an important cancer-prevention strategy, as alcohol is a known carcinogen even when consumed in small quantities.
"The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians," said the paper's senior author, Dr. Timothy Naimi, associate professor of medicine and public health. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight."
Previous studies have shown that alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver. More recent research has shown that alcohol also increases the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and female breast. While estimates have shown that alcohol accounts for about four percent of all cancer-related deaths worldwide, there is a lack of literature focusing on cancer-related deaths in the U.S.
Naimi and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute and the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health examined recent data on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol resulted in approximately 20,000 cancer deaths annually, accounting for about 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S.
Breast cancer was the most common form of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women, accounting for approximately 6,000 deaths annually, or about 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths. Cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus were common forms of alcohol-related cancer mortality in men, resulting in a total of about 6,000 annual deaths.
The researchers also found that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost. In addition, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 percent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.
Submitted by: Lisa Chedekel