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The Global Link Between Alcohol and Cancer

October 24, 2023 from Medscape


The link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk is a global concern that demands immediate attention and increased public awareness. Isabelle Soerjomataram, PhD, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Lyon, France, emphasized this urgency at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Annual Meeting 2023, stating that there is still a very low level of global awareness regarding the link between alcohol and cancer.


Soerjomataram underscored the vital role health professionals play in disseminating knowledge and fostering awareness. In agreement, Gilberto Morgan, MD, a medical oncologist from Skåne University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, remarked, “We have absolutely no problem asking patients if they take supplements or vitamins or if they’re eating [healthy]. So,what is the difference? Why not recommend that they cut down their alcohol intake and leave it up to everybody’s personal choice to do it or not?”.


Soerjomataram provided a glimpse into global alcohol consumption, revealing that almost half of the world’s population (46%) indulges in alcohol. Males exhibit a higher prevalence at 54% compared to females at 38%. Around the world, each drinker consumes over six liters of pure ethanol annually, or roughly one bottle of wine every week.


IARC data reports that 47% of alcohol-related malignancies are related to excessive drinking, defined as consuming more than 60 g/day, or around six drinks per day. Additionally, Soerjomataram clarified that 29% of cases of alcohol-related malignancies are caused by risky drinking, which is defined as consuming between 20 and 60 g/day, and 14% are caused by moderate drinking, which is defined as consuming less than 20 g/day or around two drinks per day.


Delving into the impact of alcohol on cancer incidence, Soerjomataram shared, “Alcohol drinking caused nearly 17,000 cases of cancer in 2020” in the UK alone. Breast cancer accounted for nearly one in four of those new cases. Apart from breast cancer, alcohol intake has been linked to six other cancer types: stomach and pancreatic cancer, as well as cancers of the oral cavity, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, and liver.


Despite these concerning statistics, Soerjomataram provided a glimmer of hope with quotes. “If it’s possible in these countries, I can imagine it’s possible elsewhere,” she remarked, referring to the positive trends in alcohol use observed in nations like France and Italy, two major wine producers.





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