Increased Cancer Risk In Women Who Drink Alcohol
A study published in the Feb 24, 2009 Journal of the National Cancer Institute based on the health records of more than 1 million women in the UK who participated in the Million Women Study shows that partaking in even one alcoholic drink daily increases cancer risk.
While alcohol has previously been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, this new study shows that alcohol also increases the risk of liver and rectal cancers in middle-aged women. Because this study only evaluated the health records of women, these findings do not apply to men.
The added risk of cancer in women was also shown to increase with greater amounts of alcohol. Dr. Therese Bevers and her team at the Anderson Cancer Center found that women who consume three to six alcoholic drinks weekly have a 2 percent greater risk of cancer, whereas women who consume an average of seven to 14 drinks per week have a 5 percent increased risk of cancer, and women who routinely consume 15 or more drinks weekly increase their risk of cancer by 15 percent. The risk was the same regardless of the type of alcohol the women consumed.
The news comes as something of a mixed message to women who have been told for many years that moderate consumption of alcohol improved health by lowering blood pressure and reducing lipid levels. Now, with this proven link between alcohol consumption and cancer in women, representatives of the National Cancer Institute are recommending that women reduce their intake of alcohol or avoid alcohol completely. Cardiac benefits can be gained with added exercise and dietary restrictions, for example, reducing the intake of trans fats.
Studying the health records of participants in the Million Women Study, the UK researchers also observed that drinking alcohol was also linked to a risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, and larynx, but only in current smokers. The increased rates of cancer were not seen in drinkers who were ex-smokers. The researchers also concluded that alcohol may account for up to 13 percent of all cases of these cancers in women.
The specific risk of cancer caused by alcohol is unclear but it’s suspected of being related to increased levels of circulating estrogens, a finding previously confirmed in breast cancer. While the study offers value because of the large number of participants, researchers note that alcohol consumption is a self-reported finding in this study. In addition it is a finding that can change from year to year, making the effects of alcohol consumption over a lifetime difficult to gauge.