More on Alcohol and Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 05, 2018

Is There a Link between Alcohol and Cancer Mortality Risk?

Long-term readers of this blog know that this is a recurring topic. News comes and goes, but the basic message of an association between alcohol and cancer risk continues. A recent study from Ireland, published in the journal, PLOS Medicine, is the first to look at alcohol consumption and mortality risk. Other studies have focused on the association between alcohol and developing cancer. Important note here: all of these studies have found an association, not a direct cause and effect. There is a big difference.

Should there be a difference in our minds and our drinking? Clearly, this is another one of the “it’s up to you” decisions, but it can be confusing. This newest study states that people who had seven or fewer drinks a week have the lowest rate of cancer death, even compared to never drinkers. People who are heavy drinkers again have the highest risk. The people with the very highest risk are those who are smokers and heavy drinkers and incur the largest risk of head and neck cancers.

We know that there may actually be some health benefits of red wine, and we also know that many of us truly enjoy that wine or an occasional martini. I have wrestled with this one and always end up in the same place: I savor my nightly glass or wine or cocktail (almost always only one), and if I end up dying of cancer, I won’t blame myself for this habit. I think that is really important. If you think that you would feel that your nightly wine was the cause and, therefore, engage in endless self-blame, the wine may not be worth it.

It is likely that there will continue to be studies and reports about the associations and links between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing cancer or, as in this case, dying from cancer. When you read them, remember that this continues to be a very complicated work in progress, and a personal decision for each of us.

Here is an excerpt and a link to a report from LiveScience:

Drinking less alcohol may be linked to a lower risk of cancer, a new study suggests.

In the study, researchers found that people who drank some alcohol had a lower risk of cancer and death from any cause during a nine-year period than those who drank more or none.

In particular, people who had fewer than seven drinks a week had the lowest risk of cancer and death, compared with those who had seven or more drinks a week, according to the study, published today (June 19) in the journal PLOS Medicine. And with each additional drink a week, the risk of cancer and death from any cause increased, the scientists reported.

However, the study found only an association between alcohol and cancer and death, and did not prove cause and effect, the researchers said.

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