Ceasing alcohol consumption leading way to prevent cancer death, study finds

The latest research further volleys a long-embraced assumption into the realm of fact — that alcohol exists as prominent contributor to cancer deaths and years of potential life loss.

According to a study conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), the reduction of alcohol consumption can greatly enhance cancer prevention efforts by impeding the continual presence of carcinogens within body systems. Previous studies have cast alcohol as a prime perpetrator in cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breasts; past investigations also suggest that alcohol has contributed to four percent of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

Using a lack of literature related to U.S. cancer mortality in association with alcohol as one incentive to delve, the Boston cohort set out for concrete answers to place on the page. Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, from the Department of Medicine at BUSM, along with colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, discovered that alcohol promoted the deaths of approximately 20,000 cancer patients annually — nearly 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the country.

Breast cancer was found to be the most alcohol-attributable driver of cancer death in woman, with 6,000 fatalities occurring annually — approximately 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths. For men, cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus were the most common causes of alcohol-attributable cancer death, also resulting in about 6,000 deaths annually.

Furthermore, the study team made a startling calculation of potential life loss due to alcohol-attributable cancer deaths, with a staggering 18 years assumed to be lost due to such conditions. “In addition, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 percent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths,” the report found.

In light of such forming analysis, the researchers insist that patients and their physicians become more proactive in putting down the bottle to ward off cancer and general life loss.

"The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians," said Naimi, in a news release. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight."

The study was published in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Image courtesy of Kuba Bozanowski via Creative Commons licensing.