This research has been published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Alcohol can increase the chances of cancer. Researchers have also found that 3.2% to 3.7% of all cancer deaths, counting to about 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths of the Americans, in US in 2009 were caused by alcohol. This study has been done after about 30 years.
Researchers also found that alcohol is the most important contributor to early death from any cause. Moreover, alcohol-related cancer death could result in 18 years of life lost. Suppose if a person died at the age of 58 due to alcohol-related cancer, he or she would be able to live up to the age of 76, if he or she would not consume alcohol in the lifetime.
“People don’t talk about the issue of alcohol and cancer risk,” Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Alcohol has been known to be related to causing cancer for a long period of time. We talk about cancer prevention, screenings and tests. This is one of those things that seems to be missing in plain sight.”
Researchers have also found that the cancers of the upper airway and esophagus were most linked to alcohol-related cancer deaths in men while in women 15% of all breast cancer deaths were linked to alcohol in women. The more the person drinks alcohol, the more the chances of cancer-related deaths. Even low level consumption of alcohol could also increase the risk of cancer-related death.
According to Timothy Naimi, a physician and alcohol researcher at Boston University Medical Center and study co-author, it “reflects a public health blind spot” that alcohol has a strong link to cancer but has not been strengthened as a cancer prevention strategy.
“Alcohol is a known cancer-causing agent in humans, but it has been severely overlooked as a preventable cause of cancer deaths,” Naimi said in a statement. “People need to know the impact of alcohol on cancer deaths because it’s another reason why they should not drink excessively.”
Although moderate drinking of alcohol has some protective effects on heart but “overall, alcohol kills many times more people than it saves,” said Naimi.
Researchers are still not clear about the mechanism of alcohol related cancer risk but one hypothesis is that DNA materials in cells are damaged by alcohol. Among the other mechanisms are that alcohol affects the estrogen levels in women and can work as a solvent for tobacco chemicals to reach the digestive tract.
David E. Nelson, MD, MPH, Dwayne W. Jarman, DVM, MPH, Jürgen Rehm, PhD, Thomas K. Greenfield, PhD, Grégoire Rey, PhD, William C. Kerr, PhD, Paige Miller, PhD, MPH, Kevin D. Shield, MHSc, Yu Ye, MA, and Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH, (2013). Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301199