An international team of researchers reports that 3.6 percent of all cancer cases worldwide are related to alcohol drinking, and these lead to 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths.
“A causal link has been established between alcohol drinking and cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, larynx, and breast,” Dr. Paolo Boffetta, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, and colleagues write in the International Journal of Cancer. “For other cancers, a causal association is suspected.”
In their study, the researchers estimated the number of cancer cases and deaths in 2002 attributable to alcohol consumption by sex and WHO sub-region, using various sources of data.
In that year, there were 389,100 cases of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking, representing 3.6 percent of all cancer, they report. The number of cancer deaths attributable to alcohol was 232,900, representing 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths.
More than 60 percent of alcohol-related cancers in men were in the upper digestive tract, and approximately 60 percent of alcohol-associated cancers in women were in the breast.
The burden of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking was especially high in Central and Eastern Europe.
“On the other hand, there is strong evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of ... heart disease ... stroke, and (gallstones),” Boffetta and colleagues note.
Therefore, they advise, “The burden of alcohol-associated cancer should be considered in the light of the evidence that alcohol drinking modifies the risk of numerous other diseases.”