Journal of Clinical Oncology Report: Even Moderate Drinkers at Risk For Some Cancers

By  //  November 15, 2017

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HEALTH NEWS SPOTLIGHT

Breast cancer is one of the cancers that have an increased risk associated with alcohol consumption. Others include oropharyngeal and larynx cancer, esophageal cancer, liver carcinoma, and colon cancer.

Like millions of people around the world, I enjoy an occasional cocktail, glass of wine or beer, and wouldn’t consider that level of drinking to be harmful to my health.

However, in a statement focusing on alcohol intake as a risk for cancer the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) suggests that even light drinking could be putting my health in jeopardy for some forms of cancer.

In the statement published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the study authors write, “Alcohol is causally associated with oropharyngeal and larynx cancer, esophageal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, breast cancer and colon cancer. Even modest use of alcohol may increase cancer risk, but the greatest risks are observed with heavy, long-term use.”

Most Americans Don’t Associate Drinking With Cancer

It is well established that heavy alcohol consumption is associated with multiple health risks, but there are also many studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits.

Alcohol consumption is an integral part of our culture and 70 percent of Americans don’t recognize alcohol consumption as a significant cancer risk factor.

President of the ASCO Dr. Bruce Johnson said, “People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes.”

In fact, according to the ASCO National Opinion Survey, 70 percent of Americans don’t recognize alcohol consumption as a significant cancer risk factor, and many probably subconsciously reflect on the studies that suggest that moderate drinking has some preventive impact on cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease as an excuse for that daily glass of wine or cocktail.

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Limiting Alcohol Intake Reduces Risk for Cancer

Lead statement author Dr. Noelle K. LoConte, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, emphasized that conclusions from this review of more than 150 studies looking at the link between alcohol and cancer clearly show that limiting alcohol intake is a means to prevent cancer.

“The good news is that, just like people wear sunscreen to limit their risk of skin cancer, limiting alcohol intake is one more thing people can do to reduce their overall risk of developing cancer,” said Dr. LoConte.

In the statement, the ASCO also proposes some recommendations that may help to reduce alcohol intake in the U.S. These include increasing the price of alcohol, raising alcohol tax, introducing stricter regulations on the sale of alcohol to minors, and incorporating alcohol control strategies in cancer prevention plans.

Just like using sunscreen to limit their risk of skin cancer, limiting alcohol intake is one more thing people can do to reduce their overall risk of developing cancer.

Alcohol and Cancer Risk Should Be Included in Preventative Medicine Counseling

As in any public health initiative, educating the community is key. The statement authors assert the importance of oncologists in informing us about the cancer risks associated with alcohol intake and write, “Oncology providers can serve as community advisors and leaders and can help raise the awareness of alcohol as a cancer risk behavior.”

However, it’s unlikely that our local oncologists have the reach to effectively educate our entire community on the link between moderate alcohol use and certain cancers. Hopefully, our primary care providers, who do have the reach into the community through patient volume, will also incorporate this information into their preventative medicine armamentarium.

The fact is that you can pretty much pick and choose what you want to read and learn about alcohol consumption and its positive or negative impact on health to come to a final decision about your lifestyle choices. This ASCO statement is compelling and should be taken very seriously in deciding whether or not to have that next drink.

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