Alcohol linked to seven cancers and even moderate drinkers are at risk

Alcohol causes at least seven forms of cancer and people drinking even low to moderate amounts are at risk, according to new research. The exact biological reasons for the link are unclear but the latest review concludes there is strong evidence of a direct, harmful effect from drinking. Cancer of the mouth and throat, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, bowel and breast have all been linked to alcohol, according to New Zealand researcher Jennie Connor. Writing in the journal Addiction, she said: “There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites, and probably others.”

Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause

Jennie Connor, from the University of Otago

While the highest risks are among heavy drinkers, even people who drink smaller amounts are seen to be at risk, according to Prof Connor. She said there was no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer, but the risks wee reduced for some cancers when people stop drinking. She has also questioned previously reported health benefits from drinking, such as a glass of red wine being good for your heart. These were seen “increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers”, she said.

Among other evidence, we see the risk increasing as the amount of alcohol consumed increases, and we agree that there is solid evidence to conclude that alcohol consumption directly causes cancer

Susannah Brown, science programme manager for the World Cancer Research Fund