The study was published yesterday in the online issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
For the study, researchers looked at recent U.S. data on cancer mortality and two large surveys on alcohol consumption. They used analysis of the literature linking alcohol consumption to cancer risk to determine risk of mortality. The scientists calculated the average number of standard alcoholic drinks (14 grams of alcohol) consumed per day.
The investigators focused their analysis on the seven cancers linked to alcohol consumption: oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colorectum, and female breast cancer.
Using two different methods, they estimated that alcohol caused on average 19,500 cancer deaths each year, which accounts for approximately 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, and esophagus were the most common forms of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths for men, accounting for approximately 4,000-8,400 cancer deaths annually.
For women, breast cancer was the leading cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths, accounting for about 4,700-7,300 deaths annually (15 percent of all breast cancer deaths). Each alcohol-attributable death resulted in an average loss of 17 to 19 years of potential life. The investigators estimated the years of life lost by looking at alcohol sales and mortality data.
Cancer risk increased with higher alcohol consumption. The greatest proportion of total alcohol-attributable deaths, about 30 percent, occurred in drinkers who consumed on average 1.5 drinks or less daily. Drinking more, 1.5 to 3 drinks per day, was responsible for about 15 percent of cancer deaths from these seven cancer types.
As the authors point out, much of the efforts to limit alcohol use for cancer prevention have been overshadowed by alcohol’s potential cardiovascular benefits. As a result, AICR’s — along with other health organizations — recommendation is if you do drink, limit your consumption to moderate consumption: no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
For breast cancer, AICR has found that any amount of alcohol increases risk. AICR’s expert report and its continuous updates found alcohol consumption links to an 11 percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
To see what is a standard serving of beer, wine and other alcohol drinks, visit this NIH site.