Issue of Journal Alcohol Focuses on Cancer Risk
The journal Alcohol dedicated a recent issue (volume 35) to the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. The issue reviewed the epidemiology of alcohol-associated cancer, the relationship between alcohol and specific cancers, and the potential mechanisms through which alcohol may increase cancer risk.
Some key findings include the following:
- Up to 80% of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and larynx are attributable to alcohol use.
- Light-to-moderate alcohol use has been linked to colorectal and breast cancers; heavier consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the liver, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, stomach, and pancreas.
- Alcohol may increase cancer risk through various possible mechanisms
including (but not limited to) by
- producing acetaldehyde (a weak mutagen and carcinogen);
- altering estrogen metabolism and response, and inactivating the tumor suppressor gene BRCA1 (breast cancer);
- inducing oxidative damage;
- decreasing S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) levels (liver cancer);
- interfering with the metabolism of retinoids, which substantially affect cellular growth and differentiation;
- impeding metabolism of folate, which may prevent alcohol-related cancers.
Clinicians and patients seem to pay more attention to the possible benefits of moderate drinking and well-known consequences of heavier drinking than to alcohol-related cancer risks. This issue of Alcohol will hopefully raise awareness of the effects of alcohol use on a wide range of cancers.Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH
Richard Saitz, MD, MPH