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Alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer

Public need to be made aware of the dangers of drinking

Mark Gould

Friday, 22 July 2016

Drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, is directly linked to causing at least seven types of cancer. New research* by Jennie Connor from the department of preventive and social medicine at Otago University in New Zealand, published today in the journal Addiction, concludes: "there is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others."

"Even without complete knowledge of biological mechanisms, the epidemiological evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. The measured associations exhibit gradients of effect that are biologically plausible, and there is some evidence of reversibility of risk in laryngeal, pharyngeal and liver cancers when consumption ceases," her research reveals.

Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths world-wide the study says. Campaigners say the study demonstrates the need for greater awareness of the need for drinkers to have alcohol free days, and for alcohol containers to carry health warnings.

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), which represents 40 organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of GPs, British Medical Association, Alcohol Concern and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, says the findings showed that the government needs to do more to educate the public on the dangers of alcohol consumption.

“This important review reinforces the need for the public to be made aware of the causal link between alcohol and cancer. Research shows that only around 1 in 10 people are currently aware of the alcohol-cancer link. People have the right to know about the impact of alcohol on their health, including its link with cancer, so that they can make informed choices about how much they drink," AHA spokesman Colin Shevills said.

"In light of the strengthening of the evidence and the UK’s Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines, the government has a responsibility to ensure the public are more informed of the risks of drinking, and there is public appetite for this information. The government should take action and invest in awareness raising campaigns and ensure that all alcohol products have the risks of drinking displayed at-a-glance so that drinkers are not kept in the dark and potentially put at risk," he said.

* Connor, J. Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 21 July 2016. DOI: 10.1111/add.13477

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