Heavy drinking linked to increased cancer risk

In collaboration with the Press Association

Canadian scientists have provided more evidence of a link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of cancer.

A team of researchers at McGill University and the University of Montreal studied data which had originally been collected in Montreal in the 1980s for a large occupational cancer study.

The information contained details of participants' drinking habits, as well as their job histories, smoking status, dietary habits and socioeconomic status.

Analysis revealed that people who regularly drank large amounts of beer and spirits tended to face a much higher-than-average risk of developing cancer.

Those who drank the most had a sevenfold increased risk of oesophageal (food pipe) cancer; an 80 per cent higher risk of bowel cancer; and a 50 per cent heightened risk of lung cancer.

Overall, heavy beer and spirits drinking was shown to be associated with six different cancers.

Lead author Dr Andrea Benedetti, assistant professor at McGill University's Departments of Medicine and of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, revealed: "We saw increased risk for oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer. The strongest risk was for oesophageal and liver cancer."

Dr Benedetti described the findings, which appear in the journal Cancer Detection and Prevention, as "astounding".

"This adds to the growing body of evidence that heavy drinking is extremely unhealthy in so many ways - cancer very much included."

Dr Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK's senior health information officer, said: "We've known for many years that drinking alcohol increases the risk of several different types of cancer, including bowel and breast cancer.

"In the body, alcohol is changed into a chemical called acetaldehyde that not only causes hangovers, but can also damage cells in ways that can lead to cancer. So cutting down on alcohol is an important thing people can do to reduce their cancer risk."

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