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Research Summary

Relation of Alcohol Intake to the Risk of Dying from Cancer

In this study, researchers performed a meta-analysis relating alcohol consumption to all-cancer mortality based on almost 50,000 deaths reported in the literature from 18 prospective cohort studies. The authors report the following:

  • In comparison with abstainers or people with occasional alcohol use, the average consumption of ≥50 g of alcohol per day (approximately 4 U.S. standard drinks) was associated with an estimated 32% increased risk of dying from cancer.
  • There was no significant increase in the estimated risk of cancer death for subjects classified as “moderate drinkers” (defined in this study as people who consume 12.6 g to 49.9 g of alcohol per day).
  • There was a slight but statistically significant decrease in cancer mortality risk among “light drinkers” (defined in this study as people who consume ≤12.5 g of alcohol per day). With adjustment for source of cohort, geographic area, and potential related factors, for people with “light” alcohol use the relative risk for cancer death among men was 0.91; among women it was 0.94.

Comments:

The decrease in all-cancer deaths for people with “light” alcohol use is somewhat surprising, but it is possible that misclassification of cause of death (e.g., attributing a cardiovascular-related death to an underlying cancer) or residual confounding could play a role. On the other hand, in this large meta-analysis the only significant increase in risk in cancer mortality was among people who consume ≥50 g of alcohol per day. This suggests that the overall risk of death from cancer associated with alcohol consumption may be primarily from heavy alcohol use. R. Curtis Ellison, MD

Reference:

Jin M, Cai S, Guo J, et al. Alcohol drinking and all cancer mortality: a meta-analysis. Ann Oncol. 2013;24(3):807–816.

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