Alcohol Linked to More than 740,000 Cancer Cases in 2020

Currently, only 33% of Americans recognize alcohol as a cause of cancer. Harriet Rumgay, a researcher at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, explained that this awareness is about the average as other high-income countries as other parts of the world might be even less aware.

Approximately 4% of the world’s newly diagnosed cases of esophageal, mouth, larynx, colon, rectum, liver, and breast cancers in 2020 (741,300 people) is attributable to drinking alcohol; 3/4 of the alcohol-related cancers are males. Of the 1/4 females developing cancer, the majority were breast cancers. Research has quantified the risk; even relatively low levels of alcohol adds to the risk of new cancer cases.

Ethanol, for example, is a form of alcohol that breaks down to a known carcinogen called acetaldehyde, known to damage DNA and interfering with the cells’ ability to repair the damage. Alcohol can also increase hormones, such as estrogen, which signal cells to grow and divide. As more cells are created, so are more possibilities for cancerous cell division.

Alcohol also can prevent the body from absorbing certain nutrients known to help prevent cancer, such as vitamins A, C, D, E, and folate.

When a person engages in drinking and smoking, this will indirectly increase the risk of cancer, as the alcohol works to make it easier for the body to absorb the toxins in cigarettes; the more a person drinks, the more biological damage the person can expect.

The data was obtained using estimated global alcohol consumption estimates, specific cancer risks from alcohol, and global incidence of those cancers in 2020. To define what number counts in drinking, approximately 2 to 6 drinks a day equates to risk to heavy drinking. Moderate drinking is 2 or fewer drinks a day, but even that accounted for 14% (103,000 cases) of alcohol-related cancers.

The estimated number is a conservative one, as the study excluded former drinkers in the main analysis; they only looked at countrywide estimates of current drinkers and only at cancers where risk factor has been scientifically shown to increase with alcohol use. Cancers where alcohol use is only lightly suggested to be a link, such as pancreatic or stomach cancers, were not included.

The highest proportions of alcohol-related cancers were found in Moldova and Romania, but due to recent tax reforms, this number might drop. Emerging markets such as China, India, and Vietnam may likely see an increase in alcohol-related cancers as financial growth makes alcohol consumption easier. The lowest rates of alcohol-related cancers were found in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where alcohol use is banned.

Alcohol might feel like a momentary escape from the stress of the present moment, but it can leave you in a much worse state than before, in more ways than one. An embarrassing hangover might be the least of your worries.

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