Cancer: Alcohol consumption can cause different types of cancer

Cancer can be devilishly hard to stop once it’s hatched in the body. That’s because cancer cells multiply and spread to neighboring regions. However, measures can be taken to completely reduce the risk of cancer.

Anyone can get cancer, but you can increase the risk scale by making poor lifestyle decisions.

According to Cancer FactFinder — a new health website that applies scientific research to common cancer risk claims — alcohol consumption can increase your risk by an order of magnitude.

The health website says: “There is strong agreement that alcohol consumption can cause several types of cancer, and it is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (meaning it is carcinogenic in humans) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).”

It adds that there is a strong “dose-response association” between alcohol use and cancer.

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This means that the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.

Among which:

  • Head and neck: Moderate drinkers have a 1.8 times higher risk of oral cavity and throat cancer (throat cancer) and a 1.4 times higher risk of larynx cancer (voice box cancer) than non-drinkers. Heavy drinkers have a five-fold higher risk of oral and pharyngeal cancer and a 2.6-fold higher risk of laryngeal cancer (NCI).
  • Esophageal: Compared to those who do not drink alcohol, the risk ranges from 1.3 times higher for light drinkers to almost five times higher for heavy drinkers (NCI).
  • Liver: Heavy alcohol use is associated with an approximately two-fold increased risk of two types of liver cancer.
  • Breast: The increase in cancer risk is greater in moderate drinkers (1.23 times higher) and heavy drinkers (1.6 times higher).
  • Colorectal: Moderate to heavy alcohol use is associated with a 1.2- to 1.5-fold increased risk of colon and rectal cancer, compared with no alcohol use.

The association is particularly worrisome in the UK, where alcohol abuse rates are particularly high.

In England, alcohol is the leading cause of ill health, disability and death among people aged 15 to 49, according to government statistics published last year.

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Alcohol abuse in the UK is a significant public health problem with major health, social and economic impacts estimated at £21 to £52 billion a year.

According to government statistics, about 21 percent of the adult population in England and 24 percent of adults in England and Scotland drink regularly at levels that increase the risk of ill health (increasing risk and higher risk drinkers).

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) recommend that adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week to keep the risk of alcohol consumption low.

One unit of alcohol is 8 g or 10 ml of pure alcohol, which corresponds approximately to:

  • Half a pint lower to regular lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6 percent)
  • A single small dose (25 ml) of liquor (25 ml, ABV 40 percent).

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Symptoms to recognize and how to respond

It is important to be aware of new or worrisome symptoms.

The NHS explains: “While it’s unlikely to be cancer, it’s important to talk to a GP so they can investigate. Finding cancer early means it’s easier to treat.”

General symptoms include changes in bowel habits, bloating and coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

“If your GP suspects cancer, they will refer you to a specialist – usually within two weeks,” adds the NHS.

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