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Alcohol increases the risk of numerous medical conditions such as heart disease, pancreatitis, obesity, dementia and cirrhosis. In terms of cancer, despite some drinks, particularly red wine containing polyphenols and antioxidants such as resveratol these do not counteract the harmful effects. Recently, international health organisations like the World Health Organisation now agree that alcohol can also increase the risk of a range of cancers, particularly mouth and oesophagus cancers, bowel, breast, prostate and liver. There is also evidence, albeit conflicting, that drinking regularly after cancer, particularly breast cancer can increase the risk of recurrence.

International reports linking alcohol with cancer:

[1] Heavy drinking may be linked to increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer, research suggests. 
Heavy drinking, especially when it's beer, increases the risk for highly aggressive prostate cancer," according to a University of California-San Francisco study published online in Cancer. The team did not set out to determine the effect of alcohol consumption on prostate cancer risk, but rather to test the effectiveness of finasteride (Proscar, Propecia), a drug prescribed to prevent prostate cancer. As part of the recorded lifestyle data they discovered that heavy drinking had a high risk of prostate cancer risk. 
In practical terms, men who consumed at least 50 grams of alcohol (at least four drinks) daily doubled their risk of high-grade prostate cancer. Heavy drinking did not influence the risk of low-grade cancer

[2] Preliminary Findings Suggest Daily Consumption Of More Than One Alcohol Drink Raises Cancer Risk.

A study reported in the British Medical Journal showed that one-in-10 of all cancers in men and one-in-33 of all cancers in women are caused by past or current alcohol intake.  The researchers found that individuals who drank more than two standard drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women were particularly at risk of alcohol-related cancers. Essentially, alcohol-related cancers which were one-in-three in men and one-in-20 in women are caused by any excessive drinking. The study authors calculated that in 2008, current and past drinking habits were responsible for about 13,000 cases of alcohol-related cancer in the UK, out of a total of 304,000 cancer cases.
 The results were gathered as part of a large study following 363,988 men and women in eight European countries."

 (A standard drink is defined as as one containing approximately 12 grams of alcohol; approximately a 125-ml glass of wine or about half of a pint of beer).

[3] Heavy Beer Drinkers With ADH1 Gene Variant May Have Increased Risk Of Gastric Cancer.

A research project published in the American Association for Cancer Research meeting reported that a genetic variant might predispose heavy beer drinkers to a higher risk for gastric cancer . The researchers found that drinking 30 g of pure ethanol/alcohol or more a day derived from beer was associated with a 75% increased risk for gastric cancer.  Notably, when they looked at interactions between the alcohol dehydrogenase gene cluster (ADH1) locus SNPs and baseline alcohol consumption, the authors noted a statistically significant interaction between rs1230025 and beer consumption." The presence of "SNP rs230025 was associated with a 30% increased risk for gastric cancer."

Why does alcohol cause cancer? 
This increased association has been established by a number of well conducted clinical trials but even so to the direct causative link is still uncertain. Evidence is also compromised by knowledge that heavy drinkers also tend to smoke, eat poorly and lack exercise. Some researchers feel the independent alcohol risk lies in the understanding that alcohol is converted into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde a carcinogenic, damaging DNA and preventing it being repaired.  People who smoke and drink heavily have very high levels of acetaldehyde in their saliva. 
Alcohol is also fattening and this leads to obesity which carries a higher risk. 
Alcohol excess over long periods of time can lead to liver cirrhosis which greatly increases the risk of liver cancer.

Tips for cutting down:

  • keep an alcohol diary
  • set yourself an alcohol limit and stick to it
  • pace your drinks by sipping slowly
  • choose non-premium beers
  • alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks
  • try not to drink at home unless socialising
  • find something else to do instead - for example, going to the gym, museum arts clubs.
  • have alcohol-free days to remind yourself you donít always have to drink.

Extra help:

  • Drinkline on 0800 917 82 82 (freephone)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555

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