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Alcohol quantified as contributor to cancer deaths

Thursday February 14, 2013
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Alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths and years of potential life lost, according to a study.

Previous studies consistently have shown that alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver, according to background information for the study, which will appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health. More recent research has shown that alcohol also increases the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and female breast. While estimates have shown that alcohol accounts for about 4% of all cancer-related deaths worldwide, there is a lack of literature focusing on cancer-related deaths in the U.S., according to a news release from Boston University.

Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, from the Department of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, examined recent data from the U.S. on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol resulted in about 20,000 cancer deaths annually, accounting for about 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

The researchers also found that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost. In addition, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30% of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

Breast cancer was the most common form of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women, accounting for approximately 6,000 deaths annually, or about 15% of all breast cancer deaths. Cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus were common forms of alcohol-attributable cancer mortality in men, resulting in a total of about 6,000 annual deaths.

"The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians," Naimi, the paperís senior author, said in a news release. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight."

The study abstract is available at http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301199.


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