The connection between alcohol and cancer is controversial and often debated, even among medical professionals. Reputable sites allege that alcohol can improve longevity and potentially help prevent heart disease. The next article you read will condemn alcohol use as a key factor in developing various diseases.
The conclusion is that experts don’t necessarily have a conclusion on all the potential effects your drinking habits, even if they’re moderate, could have on your health. However, a recent statement reveals the potentially deadly link between alcohol and cancer risk.
Alcohol is a known carcinogen
According to the American Cancer Society, drinking clearly raises your risk of mouth, throat, and esophageal cancers. Long-term alcohol use has been tied to an increased risk of liver, colon, and breast cancers as well.
In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists alcohol consumption as a known human carcinogen. Their research indicates that the more alcohol you drink, and how much you regularly drink over time, the higher your risk of developing alcohol-associated cancers become.
Let’s take a look at new research on how alcohol consumption drastically increases your risk.
It’s the first time the ASCO has weighed in on the topic
The statement in question comes from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO, a professional organization composed of some of the nation’s top cancer doctors. This marks the first time they’ve contributed their voice to the conversation on the alcohol-cancer link. Corresponding author and oncologist Noelle LoConte said the purpose of the paper is to educate doctors, the public, and cancer patients.
“Although this association has been established for a long time, most oncologists and most laypeople and most cancer patients are not aware of the risk,” she told TIME. “This was an opportunity for us to raise awareness.”
Some doctors say alcohol carries health benefits
No medical professionals are encouraging you to black out for your health. However, you’ve likely heard that a glass of red wine may improve heart health, or that moderate drinking can lower your risk of diabetes and stroke.
However, research on the correlation between alcohol and health is inconsistent. According to TIME, it can be hard to separate the effects of the alcohol itself from other related factors, like those who don’t drink because of underlying medical reasons. These medical conditions will also affect their risk of getting sick or dying earlier than moderate drinkers with no health conditions.
However, many of these claims have been debunked
“There’s a general idea out there that alcohol is good for us, because that’s what you hear reported all the time,” said Dr. Tim Stockwell, lead author of an analysis published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. “But there are many reasons to be skeptical.”
According to Medical News Daily, the researchers found that moderate drinkers don’t have an advantage in terms of longevity, and other unbiased studies showed no health benefits from consuming alcohol in moderation. They also found that people who consume little to no alcohol lived longer than moderate drinkers, a sharp contrast to studies that claim alcohol consumption offers health benefits.
Alcohol can elevate your risk for these deadly cancers
ASCO’s statement elaborated on the cancers you’re at a higher risk of developing that are linked to drinking. According to the authors, an estimated 5.5% of new cancer cases worldwide can be traced back to alcohol consumption.
There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others. An estimated 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide at these sites are attributed to cancer. They include liver, colon, and breast cancers, among others.
This is how alcohol raises your cancer risk
Alcohol acts as an irritant in your mouth and throat and damages your body tissues. It’s no secret that it damages your liver, as well. This leads to inflammation and scarring. Your cells damaged by alcohol in both spots may try to repair themselves, which can lead to DNA changes/mistakes that can lead to cancer.
Alcohol also assists other harmful chemicals in entering the cells. It affects your body’s ability to absorb nutrients like folate. A low folate level can play a risk of breast and colorectal cancer among others. In addition, alcohol raises your estrogen level and potential for weight gain, which contributes to breast and other cancers, respectively.
These are the ASCO’s public health strategies to curtail problem drinking
The ASCO released various initiatives to avoid excessive drinking along with their statement regarding the research. These will hopefully, in turn, reduce alcohol-related cancer incidence, according to TIME.
The proposed strategies include patient screening during medical appointments, regulating how many liquor stores/bars are in a given area, increasing alcohol prices, and strengthening underage drinking laws, among others. It also condemns “pink-washing” by alcohol companies, or the practice of using pink branding on alcoholic beverages, often to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. “It’s kind of like selling cigarettes to raise awareness for lung cancer,” LoConte said.
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