Just a Few Drinks a Day Can Boost Your Cancer Risk

Body of evidence is large, and keeps growing
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2011 12:40 PM CDT
Just a Few Drinks a Day Can Boost Your Cancer Risk
Bottles of alcohol are seen lining the selves of a liquor store in Springfield, Ill., Monday, Aug 31, 2009.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

There’s a constant battle between studies showing that alcohol can be good for you (it might prevent sunburn!) and those that find it’s almost definitely bad for you (it ages you more quickly!)—but you should probably just ignore the headlines that make booze “seem almost like a health food,” the Wall Street Journal concludes. That’s because regular drinking—yes, even moderate drinking—can put you at a higher risk for cancers of the breast, liver, colon, pancreas, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, and, the latest study shows, even lungs. For some cancers, the risk only takes effect for heavy drinkers; for others, even one drink a day or less can raise the danger.

It’s a difficult subject, because much of the data shows only correlation, rather than causation. But since the body of research is based on tens of millions of people studied over decades, epidemiologists call the data compelling. "The situation is somewhat similar to tobacco a few decades ago," says one, and doctors are being urged to counsel patients more thoroughly about their drinking habits. But, of course, moderate drinking also reduces the risk of heart disease. There are still questions related to how a change in drinking habits affects overall risk, what role drinking patterns play, and whether some types of alcohol are riskier than others. “The trick here is to adhere to moderate drinking,” says one doctor. “People who think that if one drink is good, more must be better, are getting the opposite results.” (More cancer stories.)

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