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Alcohol major contributor to cancer deaths

Alcohol accounts for 15% of breast cancer deaths, reasearchers found

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 15 February 2013

Alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths and years of potential life lost, researchers have found.

These findings, published in theĀ 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.

Previous studies consistently have shown that alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver. More recent research has shown that alcohol also increases the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and female breast. Estimates have shown that alcohol accounts for about 4% of all cancer-related deaths worldwide.

In this new study, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) examined recent data from the US on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol resulted in approximately 20,000 cancer deaths annually, accounting for about 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the US.

Breast cancer was the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women, accounting for approximately 6,000 deaths annually, or about 15% of all breast cancer deaths. Cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus were common causes of alcohol-attributable 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% of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

"The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasised even by physicians," said senior author Timothy Naimi from the Department of Medicine at BUSM.

"Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight," he added.

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