New research suggests that drinking a bottle of wine (around 750 ml) per week raises the risk of cancer as much as smoking five to ten cigarettes. The results of the study were published in the latest issue of the journal BMC Public Health.
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Researchers from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and the University of Southampton, noted that if women drank one bottle of wine per week, their life time risk of cancer is equivalent to those who smoke 10 cigarettes a week. The researchers discovered that these women had an increased risk of breast cancer.
On the other hand, men who drank a bottle of wine per week only experienced an increased risk equivalent to five cigarettes per week. Among men, drinking wine was associated with liver, esophageal and bowel cancer.
The team hypothesized that if 1000 non-smoking men and 1000 non-smoking women drank one bottle of wine per week throughout their lifetime, 10 men and 14 women would develop cancer.
Similarly, if they drank three bottles per week instead of one, 19 men and 36 women would develop cancer. They found that three bottles of wine per week was equal to 8 and 23 cigarettes per week for men and women respectively.
‘One bottle per week increases life time risk of cancer’
The researchers write that the harmful effects of alcohol are often underestimated by the public when compared to smoking.
"One bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime risk of alcohol-related cancers in women, driven by breast cancer, equivalent to the increased absolute cancer risk associated with ten cigarettes per week,” they conclude.
It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast. Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public. We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
Dr. Theresa Hydes, Lead Researcher
Hyde added, “We must be absolutely clear this study is not saying drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. Our finds relate to lifetime risk across the population. At an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary.”
'It's important to raise awareness'
Speaking on behalf of Cancer Research UK, Sophia Lowes said, “Smoking remains the biggest cause of cancer, so this comparison can be useful to raise awareness of less well-known risk factors like alcohol.”
Lowes went on to say, “[The study] highlights that even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of cancer. Research is clear – the less a person drinks, the lower the risk of cancer. Small changes like having more alcohol-free days can make a big difference to how much you drink.”
A comparison of gender-linked population cancer risks between alcohol and tobacco: how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine? BMC Public Health. 21 February 2019. 19:316. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6576-9.