Alcohol consumption is a definite risk factor for several cancers, irrespective of whether intake is light, moderate or heavy, according to a statement released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
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Authors of the statement say the evidence they have gathered shows that between 5 to 6% of new cancers and cancer deaths worldwide are directly linked to alcohol use.
They say this is of particular concern, given that the National Cancer Opinion Survey carried out by the ASCO earlier in the year showed that 70% of Americans do not associate alcohol consumption with cancer risk.
The survey, which questioned Americans about their attitudes to cancer, was conducted online in July and involved 4,016 adults aged 18 years and older. It is believed to be representative of the broader U.S. population.
The majority of those surveyed did correctly identify tobacco use and sun exposure as risk factors for cancer (78% and 66%). However, less than one in three (30%) thought of alcohol consumption as a risk factor, when, in fact it can increase the risk of several leading cancers including those of the head and neck, breast, colon, esophagus, and liver.
ASCO president Ben Johnson says people typically don't associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes:
However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established and gives the medical community guidance on how to help their patients reduce their risk of cancer."
According to the ASCO statement, the risk of developing cancer is higher the more a person drinks, but there is still an increased risk associated with light drinking, which is defined as drinking less than the recommended daily limit.
The risk is higher for cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus, since these are the tissues that come into direct contact with the alcohol. Alcohol use can also delay or negatively impact on cancer treatment and oncologists are identifying strategies that can help patients reduce their alcohol intake.
Johnson says the survey has helped to establish what Americans know and believe about cancer and therefore where efforts need to be focused in order to conquer cancer: “It is clear there are many important gaps we need to address – from educating the public about cancer prevention, to confronting high treatment costs, to investing in cancer research that is vital to improving patients’ outcomes in the future.”