Alcohol consumption, whether light, medium, or heavy, is linked to higher risks of several leading cancers, according to findings released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
In a statement released today, ASCO listed alcohol as a definite risk factor for cancer and said it contributed to 5% to 6% of new cancers and cancer deaths globally. The evidence linked alcohol consumption with breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck cancers.
“People don’t typically associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes,” said ASCO President Bruce Johnson, MD, FASCO, in the statement. “However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established and gives the medical community guidance on how to help their patients reduce their risk of cancer.”
According to the National Cancer Opinion Survey conducted by ASCO earlier this year, 70% of Americans do not identify alcohol as a risk factor for cancer, and only 38% are limiting their alcohol intake as a way to reduce the risk of cancer.
In addition to raising awareness of the correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer, ASCO also put emphasis on implementing evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce excessive alcohol consumption:
- Provide alcohol screening and brief interventions in clinical settings.
- Regulate alcohol outlet density.
- Increase alcohol taxes and prices.
- Maintain limits on days and hours of sale.
- Enhance enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors.
- Restrict youth exposure to advertising of alcoholic beverages.
- Include alcohol control strategies in comprehensive cancer control plans.
- Support efforts to eliminate the use of “pinkwashing” to market alcoholic beverages. For example, discouraging alcoholic beverage companies from exploiting the color pink or pink ribbons to show a commitment to finding a cure for breast cancer given the evidence that alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
According to ASCO, excessive alcohol consumption can also delay or negatively affect cancer treatment. Oncologists have the ability to identify strategies to help patients reduce their alcohol intake; address racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation disparities that may place these populations at increased cancer risk; and serve as community advisors and leaders to raise awareness of alcohol as a cancer risk behavior.
“ASCO joins a growing number of cancer care and public health organizations in recognizing that even moderate alcohol use can cause cancer,” said Noelle K. LoConte, MD, lead author of the statement and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, in the ASCO statement. “Therefore, limiting alcohol intake is a means to prevent cancer. The good news is that just like people wear sunscreen to limit their risk of skin cancer, limiting alcohol intake is one more thing people can do to reduce their overall risk of developing cancer.”