Drinking a couple glasses of wine or any alcohol beverage every day may increase the risk of dying from cancer and shorten your life by almost two decades, suggests a new study.
The study was published yesterday in the online issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
For the study, researchers looked at recent U.S. data on cancer mortality and two large surveys on alcohol consumption. They used analysis of the literature linking alcohol consumption to cancer risk to determine risk of mortality. The scientists calculated the average number of standard alcoholic drinks (14 grams of alcohol) consumed per day.
The investigators focused their analysis on the seven cancers linked to alcohol consumption: oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colorectum, and female breast cancer.
Using two different methods, they estimated that alcohol caused on average 19,500 cancer deaths each year, which accounts for approximately 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, and esophagus were the most common forms of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths for men, accounting for approximately 4,000-8,400 cancer deaths annually.
For women, breast cancer was the leading cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths, accounting for about 4,700-7,300 deaths annually (15 percent of all breast cancer deaths). Each alcohol-attributable death resulted in an average loss of 17 to 19 years of potential life. The investigators estimated the years of life lost by looking at alcohol sales and mortality data.
Cancer risk increased with higher alcohol consumption. The greatest proportion of total alcohol-attributable deaths, about 30 percent, occurred in drinkers who consumed on average 1.5 drinks or less daily. Drinking more, 1.5 to 3 drinks per day, was responsible for about 15 percent of cancer deaths from these seven cancer types.
As the authors point out, much of the efforts to limit alcohol use for cancer prevention have been overshadowed by alcohol’s potential cardiovascular benefits. As a result, AICR’s — along with other health organizations — recommendation is if you do drink, limit your consumption to moderate consumption: no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
For breast cancer, AICR has found that any amount of alcohol increases risk. AICR’s expert report and its continuous updates found alcohol consumption links to an 11 percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
To see what is a standard serving of beer, wine and other alcohol drinks, visit this NIH site.
In these studies, were other factors, such as exercise and diet, evaluated in determining cancer deaths? If so, what were the findings?
That’s a great question Julie. The authors examined 5 reviews, each review looked at multiple studies (meta-analyses) included within them so there were approximately 400 studies included in the analysis and only a small percent appeared to have controlled for diet or physical activity. I contacted the lead author, Dr. David Nelson from the National Cancer Institute, about your question, and he said that there is a great deal of variability with studies in a meta-analysis. For example, there is variability in what data was collected and how analyses were conducted.
He said: “As for whether there might have been differences in our results if more of the studies included in meta-analyses controlled for diet or physical activity, I simply don’t know. My speculation is that it might not have changed our estimates much. For the 7 cancers we included, with the exception of colorectal cancer (which contributed only a limited number of alcohol-related cancer deaths), there is fairly limited convincing increased/decreased risk associated with specific dietary factors or physical activity.”
I know so many people that drink one or two drinks a day, and have done so for many years and don’t seem to die any sooner than their life expectancy? Do these studies take in to consideration lifestyle, diet, geographic location, and stress factors. I lost a very dear loved one to ovarian cancer, and I for one do not want to get cancer. It is just one horrible way to die. But at the end of the day I like to sit down and try to enjoy a glass of wine and relax, but with all this information coming out about alcohol in very small amounts being so dangerous to my health I can’t do that anymore. Is the evidence so clear that there is no room error?
The evidence is clear on a population level and with certain cancers that regular drinking every day increases the risk for certain cancers – post-menopausal breast and oral cancers among these. But every individual’s risk for cancer, as well as other diseases, is different.
You can focus on the lifestyle factors that have the most impact on reducing risk for cancer: not smoking, being a healthy weight and getting daily physical activity. A diet with mostly plant foods is also important for lower cancer and other chronic disease risk.
And if you do drink moderately, there is some evidence that your daily glass of wine may reduce risk of heart disease.
Here’s more information on alcohol.
Apparently the reason that drinking red wine is good for health is due to the resveratol in red grapes, so the same benefits can be a achieved by drinking red grape juice…
The title of this article is misleading– the study does not say alcohol consumption shortens life– it says it increases risk of cancer, and in those who get alcohol related cancer, it shortens life, by up to two decades. Numerous studies have shown that moderate and even heavy (up to 4 to 6 drinks per day) drinking lowers overall mortality. Here is a recent, often cited, one: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/34/1/199.full
This is taught in medical school.
I just was diagnosed with Oral Cancer that was positioned in the lower left part of my mouth just above my jaw. I had had a wisdom tooth extracted four years ago that left a pocket that was always getting infected. My dentist never paid much attention to my complaints and kept telling me to floss better and gave me a squirter to irrigate the area. In frustration after my last teeth cleaning I made an appointment with the Oral Surgeon to reconstruct the pocket. He did that and also performed a biopsy which indicted Squamous Cell Carcinoma. He was shocked. A week ago I underwent a four and a half hour operation to extract the tumor. I was happy to get the results of a new biopsy that at the moment I am cancer free. I will be 75 in a month. I also found out that I am in Stage 1. What really surprised me about this was the profile. I have never smoked or used tobacco in any form. I also am not overweight and over the years have done a lot of walking. I also enjoy a very healthy diet. The only factor I have is drinking. I don’t indulge until the evening and generally have a couple of glasses of red wine every night which I had always heard improved one’s health. I think everyone is under the perception that drinking is good for you. The connection between cancer and drinking is not publicly perceived. My next door neighbor is a sixty year old man who consumes twelve beers everyday between five PM and Eight PM. He’s not fat and considers his life style healthy.
Would you consider that my cancer was caused from drinking or the constant problem with the pocket? Also, why isn’t the incidence of Oral Cancer higher?