Alcohol Causes Cancer

The most comprehensive review of research into the role of
diet in cancer has concluded that even small amounts of alcohol
increase the risk of a number of different cancers.

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for
Cancer have jointly published, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and
the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.” This document is the
culmination of five years work by almost two hundred scientists, who
adopted the most up-to-date methodology for synthesising the results of
all known scientific research on the effects of diet and exercise on
cancer. This is the second such report produced, but is more than simply
an update of the previous report, published in 1997, since it takes
advantage of recent developments in systematic approaches to
synthesising scientific evidence.

Regarding the effects of alcohol on cancer, the report
concludes that there is convincing evidence that alcoholic drinks are a
cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast and
colorectum (in men). They are probably also a cause of colorectal cancer
in women, and of liver cancer. It is unlikely that they have any effect
on the risk of kidney cancer.

Comparing the results with those found by the previous
report, the authors found that in general, the evidence that alcohol is a
cause of a number of cancers has become stronger since the mid-1990s.
Whereas the previous report identified a threshold, such that drinking
less than a certain amount had no detectable effect on cancer, the
current evidence does not indicate a threshold effect. Even a small
amount of alcohol has an effect on the risk of cancer, and the risk
increases with the quantity of alcohol consumed. There is no difference
between different types of alcoholic drinks.

Although the evidence regarding cancer would justify a
recommendation of complete abstinence to minimise the risk, the panel
also took account of the evidence on heart disease when making their
recommendation on drinking levels. There is evidence that modest amounts
of alcohol are likely to protect against heart disease. Taking into
account alcohol’s effects on both cancer and heart disease, the
recommendation is to limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day
for men and one drink a day for women. The ‘drink’ in this case is
between 10 and 15 grams of alcohol, which is approximately half a pint
of beer (5%) or a small glass (125 ml) of wine (12%).

Download the recommendations here. (pdf 56kb)

Download the chapter summarising the research on alcohol here. (pdf 278kb)