Around 741,000 of all new cancer cases in 2020 may be associated with drinking alcohol, according to a new study released today.
The global study, published in The Lancet Oncology, estimates that 4% of all new cancer cases are caused by drinking alcohol. Cancers of the oesophagus, liver, and breast accounted for the largest number of cases.
Alcohol consumption has been shown to cause DNA damage through increased production of harmful chemicals in the body, and affect hormone production, which can contribute to cancer development. Alcohol can also worsen the cancer-causing effects of other substances, such as tobacco.
Study authors have called for greater public awareness and increased government interventions in worst-affected regions.
Harriet Rumgay of the International Agency for Research on Cancer and lead author of the paper, said: “We urgently need to raise awareness about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk among policy makers and the general public.
“Public health strategies, such as reduced alcohol availability, labelling alcohol products with a health warning, and marketing bans could reduce rates of alcohol-driven cancer. Tax and pricing policies that have led to decreased alcohol intake in Europe, including increased excise taxes and minimum unit pricing, could also be implemented in other world regions. Local context is essential for successful policy around alcohol consumption and will be key to reducing cancer cases linked to drinking.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “Sadly, it does not come as a surprise that this study has found that so many cancer cases are linked to alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a drug and even drinking a small quantity can increase your risk of developing cancer. It’s safest not to drink alcohol but if you do, you should stick to the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk guidelines which is to drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
“Alcohol is causing great harm across this country every day – this past year saw a 20% increase in deaths linked to alcohol in England and Wales. If the UK Government wants to demonstrate its commitment to turning this tragic trend around, it must urgently improve the public’s understanding of the risks of alcohol through better labelling requirements for alcoholic drinks including cancer warnings. This is a vital public health policy alongside tackling the availability and promotion of cheap alcohol.”