Study: Alcohol a leading preventable cause of cancer death


  • Carrie Printz

Alcohol is a leading preventable cause of cancer death in the United States, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.[1]

The researchers, from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts, also demonstrated that reducing alcohol consumption is a key cancer prevention strategy as, even in small amounts, alcohol is a known carcinogen.

Alcohol has been implicated consistently in previous studies as a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver. It also has been shown to increase the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, and female breast. Estimates indicate that it accounts for approximately 4% of all cancer-related deaths worldwide.

Researchers, including senior author Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, of the Boston University School of Medicine and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute, and Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, examined US data on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol consumption resulted in approximately 20,000 cancer deaths annually, or approximately 3.5% of all US cancer deaths.

Breast cancer was the most common cause of alcohol-related deaths in women, accounting for approximately 6000 deaths, or 15% of all breast cancers, annually. Cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus were common causes of alcohol deaths in men, accounting for approximately 6000 annual deaths.

Link Underemphasized

Dr. Naimi and his colleagues also determined that each alcoholrelated death led to approximately 18 years of potential life lost. Furthermore, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, an average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30% of all alcohol-related cancer deaths.

Dr. Naimi adds that although the relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, it is not widely appreciated by the public and is underemphasized by physicians. In a news release issued by Boston University, he calls alcohol “a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”