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Heavy Alcohol Consumption a Cancer Risk, But Wine May Help PDF Print E-mail

A recent study by researchers in Montreal has discovered a strong link between heavy alcohol consumption and six types of cancer in men.  but the researchers also found that moderate wine consumption lowered the risk of several other types of cancers.

The research was conducted by Andrea Benedetti of McGill University in Montreal, Marie-Elise Parent of the University of Quebec, and Jack Siemiatycki of the Universite due Montreal.  They gathered and analyzed data from a large study done in Montreal in the early 1980’s.  There were 3,571 participants in that study, men aged 35 to 70, who provided detailed information on their alcohol consumption as well as information on their smoking habits, diet and socioeconomic status. 

About 14 percent of the men were nondrinkers, about half drank weekly, and 36 percent consumed alcohol daily.

The researchers classified the men in the study by how many drinks they consumed daily multiplied by  how many years they drank.  A man who drank four drinks a day for 25 years, for example, accumulated 100 "drink-years."  They found that regular heavy consumption of alcohol (classified as 180 drink-years or more) increased the risk of esophageal and liver cancer by more than sevenfold.  The risk of colon, stomach and prostate cancer was about 80 percent higher among heavy drinkers, while lung cancer risk rose by almost 60 percent, compared with non-drinkers.  Heavy drinking posed no apparent excess risk for pancreatic cancer, rectal cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

"For the most part we showed that light drinkers were less affected or not affected at all," said Benedetti.  "It is people who drink every day or multiple times a day who are at risk."

In a secondary analysis that separated alcohol beverages by type, the results were less alarming for moderate wine drinkers.  Those who drank between one and six glasses of wine per week showed an increased risk of rectal cancer and melanoma (7 percent and 9 percent, respectively), but for most of the other cancers, moderate wine drinkers showed a lower risk of the disease averaging 10 percent to 20 percent less, compared with nondrinkers.  The moderate wine drinkers enjoyed a 41 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer and a 35 percent lower risk for both forms of lymphoma.

"When we looked at alcohol-specific estimates, increased risks seemed to be driven by beer and/or spirits consumption," said Benedetti.

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