Up until Monday, the adverse relationship shared between alcohol consumption and cancer risks was assessed by the right of extremes. Yesterday, a new study published in the journal Cancer utilized decades worth of hospital records to determine that even light drinking is associated with a risk increase for developing cancer over time, particularly breast, head, neck, and liver cancer.
Before unpacking the results of the new paper, several key limitations should be noted. The authors were very specific about the parameters that define light to moderate drinking, parameters themselves that were supplied by The National Cancer Institute. For a light to moderate drinker, a standard drink was defined as a two-ounce shot of whiskey, six-ounce glass of wine, or a 17-ounce glass of beer. Even the participants that corresponded to the lower ends of these values expressed a 5% risk increase for developing the cancers indexed above after accounting for factors like smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.
The moderate drinkers are the ones that bore the highest correlates. Moreover, since the study exclusively observed native residents of Japan, a population studied to evidence higher instances of a genetic variation that makes it more difficult for carriers to process alcohol, researchers have cautioned against drawing any categorical conclusions.
“Given the current burden of overall cancer incidence, we should further encourage promoting public education about alcohol-related cancer risk,” study co-author Masayoshi Zaitsu, a researcher with the University of Tokyo and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said.
Light to moderate amount of lifetime alcohol consumption and risk of cancer
The participants that drank moderately for the entire duration of the study period of the 63,232 people with cancer and 63,232 healthy controls reviewed, evidenced an 18% risk increase for the disease generally speaking compared to complete abstainers, though risk for liver and colon cancer was over 30%, while risk for stomach and breast cancer was more than 20% higher among the same demographic. The authors report:
“Those who drank two drinks or fewer per day had elevated odds for overall cancer risk across all duration‐of‐drinking categories. The same patterns were observed at light to moderate levels of drinking for most gastrointestinal/aerodigestive cancers as well as breast and prostate cancers. Analyses stratified by sex, different drinking/smoking behaviors, and occupational class mostly showed the same patterns for overall cancer incidence associated with light to moderate levels of drinking.”
Although the study is animated by very specific precursors, the scope of the conclusions assent the importance of temperance. It’s true that the plant secondary compound resveratrol found in red wine has been documented to prevent certain kinds of cancer, but very little research has been conducted regarding how the volume of alcohol consumption influences preventive impact.