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Heavy Alcohol Use Increases Cancer Risk

Alcoholic drinks

Can heavy alcohol use increase your risk of lung cancer? Yes, according to the results of a large study just completed by cancer researchers and epidemiologists in Canada. Heavy drinkers also have a significantly increased risk of esophageal, colon, liver, stomach, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.

An increased risk of a cancer was associated with heavy consumption of beer and spirits, but not wine. People were considered to be heavy alcohol drinkers if they drank once or more daily, while moderate drinkers were defined as those who drank less than every day.

The greatest increased risk was in esophageal cancer (sevenfold increase), colon cancer (80%), and lung cancer (50%). The investigators evaluated the data, which had originally been collected for a large occupational cancer study performed in Montreal, and looked for trends among nondrinkers, weekly drinkers, and daily drinkers. They also compared heavy drinkers with people who did not drink or who drank only occasionally.

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The current study supports findings from several previous ones. One such study, published in July 2009, stated that heavy alcohol consumers (50 grams or more daily) and regular heavy drinkers (at least four drinks daily on at least five days per week) were at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer. The researchers also found that heavy drinking also blocked the ability of finasteride (a drug used to treat prostate cancer) to lower prostate cancer risk.

Heavy alcohol use was also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in a study presented at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona in September 2007. The drinking habits of more than 70,000 women were examined, and the investigators found that those who drank between one and two alcoholic drinks daily increased their risk of breast cancer by 10 percent while those who drank more than three drinks daily had an increased risk of 30 percent.

Yet another study found an increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with heavy alcohol consumption in both men and women. The findings, published in March 2009, involved more than 860,000 individuals. The increased risk of pancreatic cancer was associated with two or more drink daily for women and three or more drinks daily for men.

Clearly heavy alcohol use poses serious health risks for both men and women. In addition to the significant increases in cancer, people who engage in heavy alcohol use expose themselves to the possibility of developing cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, memory loss, nutritional disorders, heart disease, and nervous system disorders.

Benedetti A, et al. Cancer Detect Prev 2009; 32(5-6): 352-62.
Genkinger JM et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009 Mar; 18(3): 765-76.
Zhihong G et al. Cancer published online July 13, 2009.