Cancer risk: drinking a bottle of wine a week equivalent to 5 to 10 cigarettes

“One bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime risk of alcohol-related cancers in women, driven by breast cancer, equivalent to the increased absolute cancer risk associated with 10 cigarettes per week.”

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A study published Thursday in the journal BMC Public Health conducted by a team of experts from The University of Southhampton and Bangor University analyzes the cigarette equivalency of alcohol consumption as it relates to cancer risks.

The study is helmed by lead author Dr. Theresa Hydes of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation.


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Dr. Hydes believes the cancer risks associated with cigarettes are pretty well reported compared to alcohol even though excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to throat cancer, mouth cancer, gullet cancer, bowel cancer, cancer of the  liver and breast cancer She explains, “We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices,”

Before we delve into the stud in detail it’s important to note that its implications are not without censure. The spokeswoman for the Alcohol Information Partnership has publicly rebuked the recent study as potentially misleading, claiming that the information indexed below suggests results that might deter otherwise healthy individuals from moderately enjoying alcohol.

A quantitative examination of risks

The study concludes: “One bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime risk of alcohol-related cancers in women, driven by breast cancer, equivalent to the increased absolute cancer risk associated with 10 cigarettes per week.”

This is important because the findings detailed in the recent study assess “lifetime risks” which do not strictly intimate dangers linked to moderate alcohol consumption. More specifically the researchers conjecture that if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women drank one bottle of wine per week over the course of their lifetime, about 10 men and 14 women would develop cancer as a result. If 1,000 men and 1,000 women drank three bottles of wine per week, the respective cases of cancer were estimated to rise to 19 and 36 respectively.

Three bottles were equated with about eight cigarettes a week for men and 23 cigarettes a week for women.

Collectively these figures can be expressed as a  1% cancer increase for non-smoking men that imbibe one bottle of wine per week and a 1.4% cancer risk increase for non-smoking women that consume a bottle of wine a week.

While the data suggests the less you drink the less you increase your risk for cancer, drinking in moderation is probably ok for individuals that don’t adopt additional habits that come with correlative or causal risk factors.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.