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Alcohol consumption increases risk of cancer, research shows

People who treat themselves to an alcoholic beverage every now and then are more likely to get cancer, new research reveals.

A connection between alcohol and the development of various different cancers has been identified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The findings found that people who consume as little as two alcoholic drinks per day are still at risk of getting cancer.

According to the team of global academics, alcohol mainly triggers breast, colon and oral cancers.

During 2020, alcohol was linked to one in seven new cases of cancer around the world. It was associated with 7,000 new cancer cases in Canada alone, with 24% of cases relating to breast cancer, 20% to colon cancers, and 13% to oral and liver cancers.

Senior scientist Dr Jürgen Rehm said: “All drinking involves risk. With alcohol-related cancers, all levels of consumption are associated with some risk.

“For example, each standard sized glass of wine per day is associated with a six per cent higher risk for developing female breast cancer.”

Fellow scientist Dr Isabelle Soerjomataram said: “Alcohol consumption causes a substantial burden of cancer globally.

“Yet the impact on cancers is often unknown or overlooked, highlighting the need for implementation of effective policy and interventions to increase public awareness of the link between alcohol use and cancer risk, and decrease overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of alcohol-attributable cancers.”

Top academic Dr Leslie Buckley said: “In our clinic we are seeing many people who report increased alcohol use since the onset of the pandemic.

“Although this may be related to temporary stressors, there is a potential for new habits to become more permanent.”

Dr Buckley added: “The consequences with alcohol use are often subtle harms initially that take time to show themselves, while long-term consequences such as cancer, liver disease and substance use disorder can be devastating.”

The researchers analysed global data on alcohol to examine how it can cause cancer.

Researcher Dr Kevin Shield said: “Alcohol causes cancer in numerous ways. The main mechanism of how alcohol causes cancer is through impairing DNA repair.

“Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis, and alcohol leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, leading to breast cancer.

“Alcohol also increases the risk of head and neck cancer for smokers as it increases the absorption of carcinogens from tobacco.”

Dr Rehm explained: “Research into the link between light to moderate drinking and cancer is relatively new and that public policy does not yet reflect the degree of cancer risk.”

The entire findings of this study are now available in the journal Lancet Oncology.

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