Extra peg or two can increase cancer risk for women


London : Low to moderate alcohol consumption among women heightens risk of cancers and may account for nearly 13 percent of such cases, according to a new study.

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With the exception of breast cancer, little has been known about the impact of such alcohol consumption on cancer risk in women.

Naomi Allen of the University of Oxford and colleagues examined the association of alcohol consumption and cancer incidence among 1,280,296 middle-aged women in Britain.

Participants were recruited between 1996 and 2001. Researchers identified cancer cases through the National Health Service Central Registries.

Women on the average, had a drink per day, which is typical in most high-income countries such as Britain and the US. Very few had three or more drinks per day. With an average follow-up time of more than seven years, 68,775 women were diagnosed with cancer.

The risk of any type of cancer increased with increasing alcohol consumption, as did the risk of some specific types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, rectum, and liver. Women who also smoked had an increased risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, oesophagus, and larynx.

The type of alcohol consumed – wine versus spirits or other types – did not alter the association between alcohol consumption and cancer risk.

Each additional alcoholic drink regularly consumed per day was associated with 11 additional breast cancers per 1,000 women up to age 75; one additional cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx; one additional cancer of the rectum; and an increase of 0.7 each for oesophageal, laryngeal, and liver cancers.

For these cancers combined, there was an excess of about 15 cancers per 1,000 women per drink per day. The background incidence for these cancers was estimated to be 118 per 1,000 women in developed countries.

“Although the magnitude of the excess absolute risk associated with one additional drink per day may appear small for some cancer sites, the high prevalence of moderate alcohol drinking among women in many populations means that the proportion of cancers attributable to alcohol is an important public health issue,” the authors write, according to an Oxford release.

Michael Lauer and Paul Sorlie of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in Bethesda, said studies suggested that there is a cardiovascular benefit associated with moderate alcohol consumption, but the excess cancer risk identified in the current study may outweigh that benefit.

The study appeared Tuesday in the online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.