Alcohol causes cancer - even if you drink just over a pint of beer a day... and giving up won't help
By Jenny Hope
8th April 2011
Just one unit a day can bring on the disease
Drinking a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol below the recommended daily limit increases the risk of developing cancer, with the danger remaining even if you become teetotal, experts say.
New research shows that one in ten cancers in men and one in 33 in women in Britain is caused by drinking – and the figures are on the rise.
Alcohol is blamed for at least 13,000 cases a year, including cancer of the breast, mouth, oesophagus and bowel.
Bingeing is responsible for most cases, but some are triggered by drinking at levels below the suggested daily total, according to the international report.
It found that men who drank more than two standard drinks (or units) a day and women who had more than one were particularly at risk of alcohol-related cancers.
A standard drink is equivalent to a 125ml glass of wine, half a pint of weak beer or a single whisky.
Oxford University researcher Naomi Allen, who helps to compile the ongoing study, said: ‘This supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts.’
The study has been tracking volunteers across Europe for years, and Miss Allen said the latest figures understated the risks now.
She added: ‘The results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about ten years ago.
‘People are drinking even more now and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future.’
Figures from eight European countries including Britain were analysed to determine the proportion of cancer cases caused by alcohol, and at what levels of drinking.
NHS guidelines advise that men should drink no more than four units a day while women should not go over three.
The study looked at people drinking more than three units a day for men and one and a half for women.
It found men in Germany were the most likely to exceed three units a day (43.8 per cent of the male population), followed by Denmark (43.6 per cent) and Britain (41.1 per cent).
Among women, Germans were most likely to drink more than one and a half units a day (43.5 per cent of women), followed by those in Denmark (41 per cent) and Britain (37.7 per cent).
Cancers of the pharynx (the cavity behind the nose and mouth), oesophagus and voice box were most commonly caused by alcohol, followed by cancer of the liver.
Overall, in 2008, current and former alcohol consumption caused about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, bowel and liver in men across Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, it showed.
More than half of these cases (33,000) were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.
Across all eight countries, some 21,500 cases of upper digestive tract, liver, bowel and breast cancer in women were caused by drinking, of which over 80 per cent (17,400) was due to more than one drink of beer, wine, or spirits per day.
Almost 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Britain.
Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, which helped to fund the study, said: ‘Many people just don’t know that drinking alcohol can increase their cancer risk.
‘Keeping alcohol intake to a maximum of one small drink a day for women and two small drinks per day for men can have a real impact.’
The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is part of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (Epic), which began in 1992 and is one of the largest studies into the links between cancer and diet.
It tracked 360,000 people, mostly aged 35 to 70 when the study started, who were followed up to see how many developed cancer.
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