The Lancet Onc.: Alcohol consumption linked to more than 740,000 new cancer cases in 2020 (excerpt)
Source: The Lancet
July 13, 2021
- A global study provides up-to-date estimates for the effect of alcohol consumption on cancers worldwide. It suggests that 4% of all newly diagnosed cancers in 2020 may be associated with drinking alcohol, with men accounting for more than three quarters of those cases.
- Risky and heavy drinking was estimated to contribute the highest number of cancer cases, but moderate drinking – the equivalent of around two daily drinks – was estimated to lead to more than 103,000 cases in 2020, almost 1 in 7 of all alcohol-associated cases.
- The proportion of new cancer cases associated with alcohol varied widely between world regions, with the lowest found in Northern Africa and Western Asia, and the highest in Eastern Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Four percent of newly diagnosed cancer cases in 2020 may by associated with drinking alcohol, according to a global study published in The Lancet Oncology, leading its authors to call for greater public awareness of the link between alcohol and cancers and increased government interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in worst-affected regions.
The study estimates that men accounted for 77% (568,700 cases) of alcohol-associated cancer cases, compared with women, who accounted for 23% of cases (172,600). Cancers of the oesophagus, liver, and breast accounted for the largest number of cases.
Based on data from previous years, it is estimated that in 2020, there were more than 6.3 million cases of mouth, pharynx, voice box (larynx), oesophageal, colon, rectum, liver, and breast cancer. These cancers have well-established causal links to alcohol consumption, and the estimates of the direct associations with alcohol in the new study are the first of their kind for 2020. Disruptions to health care and cancer services across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have affected diagnosis rates for that year and may have led to an underestimation of new cancer cases in the recorded data. However, this would not be reflected in this study as estimates for 2020 were based on recorded data from previous years.
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.
“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,” says Ms Harriet Rumgay of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), France. .