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Scientists Now Say Alcohol Is a Direct Cause of Seven Forms of Cancer

Analysis of reviews from several international cancer research bodies has found alcohol to be a direct cause of oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancer.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB

We're all aware of the risks associated with certain day-to-day activities. Walking and attempting to compose tweets may result in head injuries (or at least a broken phone screen). There's a chance you'll get E. coli if you don't wash your salad leaves. Too many white wines on a Friday night increases your risk of liver failure. That's just life, right?

But according to a new study, we may need to start taking alcohol-related risks more seriously. A lot more seriously.


Published in the scientific journal Addiction, the new research found alcohol to be a cause of seven forms of cancer, with even moderate drinkers putting themselves at risk. It showed more than just statistical associations between alcohol and cancer that could be explained by other factors—in other words: alcohol is a direct cause of cancer.

READ MORE: Sorry—Moderate Drinking Doesn't Make You Healthier

Study author Jennie Connor from the preventive and social medicine department at Otago University in New Zealand came to this conclusion after studying reviews undertaken by international health research bodies, including the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organisation, over the past ten years. She found that in 2012 alone, alcohol is estimated to have caused about half a million cancer deaths worldwide.

Connor explained: "There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others. Even without complete knowledge of biological mechanisms [of how alcohol causes cancer], the epidemiological evidence can support the judgment that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast."

Based on these findings, Connor wrote in the study that there is no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer. And that old thing about red wine being good for you? A myth, according to Connor.

She added that the highest cancer risks are associated with heavy drinkers but a "considerable burden" is also placed on drinkers with low to moderate alcohol consumption.


For this reason, Connor, along with many health campaigners, is urging government health ministers to encourage everyone to cut down on booze, not just those categorised as problem drinkers.

This call for tougher alcohol advice echoes the new drinking recommendations released by the UK Government in January, which advise no more than 14 units of alcohol (around seven pints of beer) a week, making them among the strictest in the world. This stringent approach was influenced by a report from the UK Committee on Carcinogenicity, which also showed firm links between booze and cancer.

READ MORE: Drinking After Breaking Up with an Alcoholic

Despite all the evidence, many cancer research organisations say that people are still unaware of the association between the disease and alcohol consumption. A recent Cancer Research UK study found that only one in five people knew that breast cancer could be caused by drinking.

Speaking to The Guardian on the new study's findings, Cancer Research UK's health information officer Dr Jana Witt said: "We know that nine in ten people aren't aware of the link between alcohol and cancer. And this review is a stark reminder that there's strong evidence linking the two."

And it doesn't get more stark than a direct link between a life-threatening disease and what's in your glass.