10:40, 20.May 2016
Drinking alcohol causes at least seven kinds of cancer, a new study warns today.
Researchers said even people who drink low levels are at risk of developing the disease - killing off the idea that a glass of red wine can be good for you.
Although the exact mechanism is not known, there is “strong evidence” alcohol increases the risk of developing the disease, experts said.
Alcohol causes cancer of the mouth and throat, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, bowel, and breast, but may also cause other forms.
And even drinking small amounts raises the risk.
However, despite Government advice earlier this year which said there is no safe limit, 90 per cent of people do not realise drinking alcohol increases the risk of getting the deadly disease.
Professor Jennie Connor, of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at Otago Medical School in New Zealand, conducted the review of research taking into account the latest studies.
She said alcohol is estimated to have caused half a million deaths since 2012 – amounting to more than one in 20 – 5.8 per cent – of all cancer deaths.
Professor Connor added: “There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites, and probably others.
“Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause”
She said there is no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer. However, the risks are reduced for some forms when people stop drinking.
The supposed health benefits of drinking - such as red wine being good for the heart – were seen as irrelevant in comparison to the increased risk of cancer.
Professor Connor said the evidence shows the relation between alcohol and cancer is “dose dependent” – in other words the more you drink, the greater the risk.
The research reinforces guidelines issued in January by the UK’s chief medical officers, who said no level of regular drinking is without risks to health.
Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England said each time she has a drink, she asks herself: ‘Do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?’
In light of the medical officers’ report, NHS guidelines now advise men should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, down from the previous 21 units, bringing them into line with the recommendation for women.
Fourteen units is around seven pints of medium strength lager, or nine and a third 125ml glasses of medium strength wine.
Officers also warned women who regularly drink two units a day have a 16 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer and dying from it.
And those who regularly consume five units a day have a 40 per cent increased risk.
For every 1,000 women who don't drink, 109 will develop breast cancer.
This rises to 126 women for those who drink 14 units or less per week, and 153 women for those who drink 14 to 35 units a week.
Scientists are still researching how alcohol can lead to cancer - but one theory is alcohol damages DNA.
Susannah Brown, science programme manager for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), said many people wrongly believe alcohol consumption is only linked to liver cancer.
She said: “Among other evidence, we see the risk increasing as the amount of alcohol consumed increases, and we agree there is solid evidence to conclude that alcohol consumption directly causes cancer.
“For cancer prevention, we have long recommended people should not drink alcohol at all, but we understand this can be easier said than done.”
The WCRF has previously said drinking three alcoholic drinks or more per day increases the risk of stomach cancer.
It also found strong evidence for a link with other cancers, including mouth and throat, liver, bowel and breast.
Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at Imperial College London said the research is “a useful summary of alcohol and cancer”.
Pointing out recent research by Cancer Research UK that 90 per cent of the public are unaware alcohol causes cancer, he said: “The science is now well established.
“The main difficulty is communicating effectively with the public.”
While alcohol has been shown to have some benefits in reducing the risks of heart disease, the NHS advises there are better ways to reduce heart disease, such as by losing weight.
Some research has found benefits in “moderate” drinking compared to complete abstinence.
But other research has found abstainers have become teetotal due to health problems, or previous alcohol abuse.
Moderate drinkers are also more likely to be better off financially than abstainers.
Professor Connor notes moderate drinkers are more likely to engage in “healthier behaviours” such as exercise.
Elaine Hindal, chief executive officer of the charity Drinkaware, said: “Regularly drinking more than the government’s low risk guidelines puts you at increased risk of some types of cancer, and can also increase your risk of heart and liver disease, strokes and pancreatitis.
“Smoking and drinking together increases your risk of developing throat and mouth cancer more than doing either on their own.
“We know around 3.5 million middle-aged men are drinking more than the low risk guidance of 14 units or six pints of 4 per cent beer per week.
“It is why we have launched our “Have a little less, feel a lot better” campaign to target those who could be storing up serious health problems for the future.”
Professor Dorothy Bennett, Director of the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St. George’s, University of London, said the latest research “updates” existing studies of alcohol by concluding it “does cause cancer”.
She said the reason alcohol causes cancer is because: “Alcohol enters cells very easily, and is then converted into acetaldehyde which can damage DNA and is a known carcinogen.”
She added the research “could be said to strengthen support for the existing message [of reducing drinking] by a careful review and update of the evidence on both links and mechanisms”.
Dr Penny Buykx, from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield, said: “This new research summarises the well-established evidence linking alcohol consumption to an increased cancer risk.
“Our recent study with Cancer Research UK found that when shown a list of different cancers, only one out of five people know breast cancer can be caused by drinking, compared to four out of five people who know alcohol can cause liver cancer.
“Increasing public awareness where it is lacking can help people to make informed choices about their drinking.”
Source: Daily Mail