Drinking Alcohol Increases Risk of getting Cancer

Published On: August 27, 2015

Drinking alcohol every day increases the risk of contracting cancer, particularly if you are a woman. This advice is according to a recent study reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The study claims women who drank only one 120ml glass of wine a day raised their risk of contracting breast cancer by as much as 13%.

A daily tipple also increased women’s risk of developing mouth, larynx, throat and liver cancer, particularly where the woman had a hereditary risk of contracting cancer.

What this study means for drinkers

The research was conducted by Dr Jürgen Rehm at Harvard’s School of Public Health in partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The study analysed health records of 88,084 women and 47,881 men over a 30 year period and looked at the risk of light drinking. Figures analysed revealed women only needed to drink 1.9 units per day to increase their risk of getting cancer. This number is shockingly below the UK guidelines that say women should not drink more than two to three units per day.

What this means for women in the UK

The UK’s current ‘safe drinking’ guidelines were devised way back in 1987. According to their authors, the guidelines were ‘plucked out of thin air’. The guidelines are currently being reassessed by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies who is expected to announce their revision later this year.

A recent report reveals middle-aged British women drink more alcohol than their counterparts abroad. Experts say this is because large numbers of women are choosing not to have children thus giving them more time to develop a drinking problem.

Scientists believe alcohol increases the production of oestrogen. Oestrogen is thought to be a carcinogen as it promotes the growth of tumours in the breast tissue.

Does this differ for men?

The BMJ study says men who drink four units a day are only at an increased risk of getting cancer if they also smoke. Unlike women, men who drink four or fewer units of alcohol per day are not at an increase their risk of getting cancer. However, men who drink in excess of four units per day are subject to an increased risk of contracting cancer even if they do not smoke.

What the experts are saying

Dr Jürgen Rehm who led the study told Rehab 4 Alcoholism: “People with a family history of cancer, especially women with a family history of breast cancer, should consider reducing their alcohol intake to below-recommended limits, or even abstaining altogether.”

The Head of Alcohol Health Alliance, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, said: “We need mandatory health warnings on alcohol labels so that people know the facts and can make an informed choice.”

The current study has made many experts conclude that perhaps there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Clearly reducing the amount of alcohol you drink should reduce your risk of getting cancer, whether you are a man or a woman. The UK Government points to statistics saying the number of people engaging in binge drinking has fallen. This is despite figures showing an increase in cases of alcohol-induced cancer. Perhaps the concept of ‘safe drinking guidelines’ is itself an oxymoron defying scientific common-sense, and one that only serves to encourage alcohol consumption even when it is unsafe to do so.

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