Million Women Study Finds Even Moderate Alcohol
Consumption Increases Cancer Risk
Risk increases with increase in alcohol consumption
and smoking, regardless of alcohol source, i.e., wine, spirits, etc.
Feb. 25, 2009 – Just as millions of women were
becoming comfortable thinking their glass of evening red wine was not
only good for their relaxation but good for their health, comes smashing
news from a gigantic study that finds it may cause cancer. Nearly 13
percent of cancers of the breast, liver, rectum or upper aero-digestive
tract in women up to age 75 may result from low to moderate alcohol
With the exception of breast cancer, little has
been known about the impact of low to moderate alcohol consumption on
cancer risk in women prior to this study, according to the report in the
February 24 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer
In seeking an answer, Naomi Allen, D.Phil., of the
University of Oxford, U.K., and colleagues examined the association of
alcohol consumption and cancer incidence in the Million Women Study,
which included 1,280,296 middle-aged women in the United Kingdom.
Participants were recruited to the study between
1996 and 2001. Researchers identified cancer cases through the National
Health Service Central Registries.
Women in the study who drank alcohol consumed, on
average, one drink per day, which is typical in most high-income
countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. Very few drank three or more
drinks per day.
With an average follow-up time of more than 7
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, esophagus, 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 1000 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
esophageal, laryngeal, and liver cancers.
For these cancers combined, there was an excess of
about 15 cancers per 1000 women per drink per day. (The background
incidence for these cancers was estimated to be 118 per 1000 women in
"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
In an accompanying editorial, Michael Lauer M.D.,
and Paul Sorlie, Ph.D., of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute, in Bethesda, M.D., emphasize that these new results derived
from such a large study population should give readers pause.
Although previous epidemiological studies have
suggested that there is a cardiovascular benefit associated with
moderate alcohol consumption, the excess cancer risk identified in the
current study may outweigh that benefit. "From a standpoint of cancer
risk, the message of this report could not be clearer. There is no level
of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe," the editorialists
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute is
published by Oxford University Press and is not affiliated with the
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