Volume 11 Issue 72
Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 17-Mar-2009 
Next Update - 14:00 UC 08:00 EST 18-Mar-2009

Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
© Vidyya.
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Study suggests low, moderate alcohol use increases cancer risk

(17 March 2009: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- According to a new study by British researchers, low to moderate alcohol consumption among women increases their risk for numerous cancers but also appears to reduce the risk of some other cancers. The study was published online February 24 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For those cancers associated with an increased risk—breast cancer, for example, a finding that is consistent with other studies—it made no difference what type of alcohol was most frequently consumed or whether women had received hormone replacement therapy, the researchers found. However, for cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract (oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, and pharynx) the increased risk associated with alcohol intake was seen only in women who were also current smokers. The incidence of rectal and liver cancers also increased with alcohol use, while thyroid cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma decreased.

“Although the magnitude of the excess abso­lute risk associated with one additional drink per day may appear small for some cancer sites, the high prevalence of moderate alco­hol drinking among women in many populations means that the proportion of cancers attributable to alcohol is an important public health issue,” lead author Dr. Naomi Allen from the University of Oxford and her colleagues concluded.

Their analysis involved data from nearly 1.3 million participants in the Million Women Study, which included women in the United Kingdom recruited from national breast cancer screening clinics between 1996 and 2001. Women in the study who reported drinking had an average of one drink per day, and approximately 25 percent of participants were nondrinkers.

What is not known at this point, explained Dr. Arthur Schatzkin, chief of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, is whether for certain women there is a trade-off in possible benefits of alcohol consumption, such as a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, as numerous epidemiologic studies have suggested. However, it’s clear, he said, that for certain cancers, particularly of the breast, “alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is a modifiable risk factor.”

NCI is planning to use data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study to investigate overall disease risks and benefits from low to moderate alcohol consumption, Dr. Schatzkin noted.

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