Heavy boozing linked to multiple cancers

MCGILL (Canada)—Sobering findings by a research team connect heavy drinking of beer and spirits to six different cancers. People in the highest consumption category increased their risk of developing esophageal cancer sevenfold, colon cancer by 80 percent, and lung cancer by 50 percent.

Moderate drinking (less than daily) and wine consumption did not show the same effects.

“We looked at the data in two ways,” says Andrea Benedetti, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at McGill University. “We compared people who drank heavily to our reference group, who abstained or drank only very occasionally. We also looked for trends across our categories: non-drinkers, weekly drinkers, and daily drinkers.

“We saw increased risk for esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer,” Benedetti notes. “The strongest risk was for esophageal and liver cancer.”

“This study crystallizes many strands of evidence from different studies on different types of cancer and alcohol consumption,” says study coauthor Jack Siemiatycki of the Université de Montréal.

The researchers used data originally collected for a large occupational cancer study conducted in Montreal in the 1980s. The information was a treasure-trove, says Benedetti.

“Lifetime interviews were conducted with people about their job histories, and detailed information about all the things they could have been exposed to was collected,” she explains. “As it turns out, the data also included information about non-occupational factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, diet, and socioeconomic status, among others.”

“For the most part we showed that light drinkers were less affected or not affected at all,” says Benedetti. “It is people who drink every day or multiple times a day who are at risk. This adds to the growing body of evidence that heavy drinking is extremely unhealthy in so many ways. Cancer very much included.”

The results were published in the current issue of the journal Cancer Detection and Prevention. Marie-Elise Parent of INRS-Institut Armand Frappier also coauthored the report.

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