Alcohol and Cancer
a surprising risk
A letter from one of our readers…
Dear Jeff and Debra:
I’ve heard there is a risk of getting cancer from drinking. If true, I would assume the risk would apply to alcoholics or heavy drinkers. I consider myself a moderate social drinker, having no more than a couple drinks per day, with a few extra on the weekend. Should I be concerned?
Dear Ms. Curious:
Research continues to show a strong link between cancer and alcohol. New studies demonstrate that alcoholics are not the only ones who need to be concerned. In fact, the latest numbers are startling.
New research on the link between alcohol and cancer was published in the respected medical journal, Lancet Oncology (July 13, 2021). It showed that over 740,000 of the new cancer cases diagnosed in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption. This accounts for over 4% of all cancer cases. Most surprisingly, over 100,000 of these new cancer cases were found in people who reported drinking fewer than two (2) drinks per day.
We have written about the alcohol-cancer link before, but these new findings were eye opening. Most people are familiar with heavy drinkers or alcoholics developing liver or stomach problems. It’s an old story. But finding a strong alcohol-cancer link in the broader population was unexpected.
Specifically, the Lancet study found that alcohol consumption was linked to breast cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, oral cancers, as well as head and neck cancers. The list was long. It’s one thing to see these illnesses in chronic alcoholics, but it’s sobering to realize that many of these cases were linked to moderate drinkers.
Many people have an inaccurate definition of moderate drinking. As a reminder, the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says: “adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more.”
We live in a drinking and drugging society, and that’s not going to change. However, we need to understand that drinking comes with many risks.
Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of Love First: a family’s guide to intervention, now in it’s 3rd edition (Hazelden, 2021). https://lovefirst.net
This article originally appeared in the
Grosse Pointe News, August 26, 2021.