Cancer Risk Alcohol: A Bottle Of Wine Equals Many Cigarettes
You probably try to do some things to bring down your risk for cancer down the road, like eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding toxic chemicals and sugar. But do you think about drinking alcohol as a cancer-causing habit?
Drinking a bottle of wine per week may be like smoking five to 10 cigarettes in the same time period, in terms of cancer risk, according to a new study from the United Kingdom. The researchers found that the increase in cancer risk tied to drinking one bottle of wine per week is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes per week for men and 10 cigarettes per week for women.
That’s perhaps news to you, since some 70 percent of Americans don’t realize their drinking habits could contribute to their cancer risk, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
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But roughly 5 to 6 percent of new cancers or cancer deaths worldwide are directly tied to alcohol use. For perspective, in the United States, about 19 percent of new cancer cases are linked to smoking and up to 9.5 percent to obesity.
According to the new study, published (March 28) in the journal BMC Public Health, is the first to estimate the “cigarette equivalent” of alcohol, with regard to cancer risk.
Goal – Research – Cancer – Risks – Alcohol
The goal of the research is to better convey the cancer risks that are tied to moderate alcohol consumption, which is generally thought to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Indeed, studies in both the U.S. and U.K. have found that many people aren’t aware of alcohol’s link to cancer. For example, a 2017 survey from the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t know that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for cancer.
“Our estimation of a cigarette equivalent for alcohol provides a useful measure for communicating possible cancer risks that exploits successful historical messaging on smoking,” lead study author Dr. Theresa Hydes, of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement. “We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
Dr. Richard Saitz, an addiction medicine specialist and chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, said that the study’s comparison makes sense.
Time – Cancer – Risks – Alcohol – Radar
“I think it’s about time that we communicate the cancer risks of alcohol — it’s really been under the radar [and] this way is a good way to do it,” said Saitz, who wasn’t involved with the study.
Still, the researchers stress that the study isn’t saying that moderate alcohol consumption is the same thing as smoking. The study only considered cancer risk, and not the risks of other health conditions, such as heart disease. In addition, the study looked at the lifetime risk of cancer in the general population, which might differ from an individual’s cancer risk from either smoking or alcohol, the authors said.
Alcohol vs. cigarettes
To put alcohol’s cancer risks in perspective, the study aimed to answer the question: In terms of cancer risk, how many cigarettes are in a bottle of wine? One bottle contains about 80 grams (2.5 ounces) of pure alcohol.
The researchers used national data from the U.K. on the lifetime risk of cancer in the general population as well as previously published research on the relationship between alcohol, smoking and cancer.
They estimated that, among nonsmokers, drinking one bottle of wine per week is tied to a 1.0 percent increase in lifetime cancer risk for men; and a 1.4 percent increase in lifetime cancer risk for women. In other words, if 1,000 men and 1,000 women each drank one bottle of wine per week, about 10 extra men and 14 extra women would develop cancer at some point in their lives, the researchers said. The higher risk among women is mainly due to the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.
This risk was comparable to smoking five cigarettes per week for men and 10 for women.
Saitz noted that there’s been little discussion of the cancer risks tied to alcohol, even though alcohol is a known carcinogen. Even dietary guidelines discuss the recommended number of alcoholic drinks per day. [What Are Parabens?]
“If I didn’t call it alcohol or wine or beer or cocktails, and I just called it a carcinogen, no one would be talking about how many glasses of a carcinogen you could have,” Saitz said.
The study authors noted that because the study only considered cancer risk, it didn’t take into account other diseases tied to smoking or alcohol use, such as respiratory, cardiovascular or liver diseases.