SURPRISING new evidence has emerged suggesting a strong link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of developing certain cancers. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that even light to moderate drinkers (up to two drinks a day) are at a substantially higher risk of developing breast, colon, and oral cancers, with this category representing one in seven of all new cancers globally. The novel nature of the link between casual alcohol intake and cancer development means that current public policies are inadequate, relative to the risks associated with its consumption.
The modelling study carried out used data on alcohol exposure from most countries of the world and combined these data with relative risk estimates for cancer development based on its consumption. Leslie Buckley, Chief of Addictions at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) explained that there has been a reported increase in alcohol consumption since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that, although is likely due to the temporary circumstances, could result in the development of permanent habits.
The impact of alcohol on health is often overlooked yet result in the development serious conditions. It is thought that the main mechanism by which alcohol leads to cancer development is through the prevention of DNA repair. Kevin Shield, Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research (IMHPR) and study co-author further explained: “Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis, and alcohol leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, leading to breast cancer.” Jürgen Rehm, Senior Scientist at IMHPR stressed the importance of implementing policies such as higher taxes to regulate alcohol consumption: “Along with limiting the physical availability and marketing of alcohol, price controls are recognised as high-impact, cost-effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm.” Suggestions such as this are outlined in the CAMH Alcohol Policy Framework, which proposes evidence-informed measures to effectively address the health and social harms associated with alcohol.