Alcohol Leading Risk Factor for Cancer

Alcohol is a known risk factor for a number of cancers. To calculate the
proportion of cancer deaths attributable to alcohol and other risk
factors, researchers analyzed systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and data
from the World Health Organization.

Over one third (35 percent) of cancer deaths worldwide were
attributable to 9 risk factors: overweight and obesity, low fruit and
vegetable intake, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol use, unsafe sex,
urban air pollution, indoor smoke, and contaminated injections. Cancer
sites affected by alcohol included the mouth and oropharynx, esophagus,
liver, and breast. Alcohol use was among the top 3 causes of cancer
deaths* worldwide (responsible for 4 to 5 percent of cancer deaths). Of
the 4 cancers that were largely attributable (more than 50 percent of
cases) to the risk factors studied, alcohol was a major cause of 2 (mouth
and oropharynx, and esophageal cancers). Comments by Richard Saitz, MD,

Aggregate data such as these do not inform us about drinking levels
associated with specific cancer risks. However, they do tell us that
addressing alcohol use can help prevent cancer.

* Attributable to the 9 risk factors studied

March 10, 2006


Danaei G, Vander Hoorn S, Lopez AD, et al. Causes of cancer in the
world: comparative risk assessment of nine behavioural and environmental
risk factors. Lancet. 2005;366(9499):1784–1793.

Reprinted with permission from Alcohol and Health: Current


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