The Sobriety :60 features a minute on alcohol-related health issues. The third episode examines alcohol as a carcinogen. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services (HHS) Report on Carcinogens lists alcohol as a human carcinogen. It’s implicated in eight cancers:
Mouth (excluding the lips)
Larynx (voice box)
The metabolism of alcohol – a toxin – produces an even more hazardous toxin: Acetaldehyde. This chemical has been shown to create changes at the molecular level in human tissue, creating a greater susceptibility to the rapid cell growth that characterizes a cancer. Alcohol also robs the body of vitamins and, in some cases, blocks the ability to absorb them. Many of the vitamins are essential to cancer prevention and immune system. Chronic use has been associated with suppression of the immune system, making a person more susceptible to various infectious diseases and, theoretically, to cancer. (from Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud)
In 1987, the first links between cancer and alcohol were determined. According to advocacy group Drink Wise, today only 36 percent of adults are aware that alcohol is a carcinogen. (See “Alcohol is a Carcinogen”)
People with the disease of alcoholism and “social” drinkers share the same cancer risk for several other types of cancer. The risk goes up with the quantity of alcohol. In 2012 research published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research identified “significantly” higher risks for cancers of the pharynx, oral cavity and larynx and higher rates for cancers of the esophagus and rectum. “Alcohol’s role as a dietary carcinogen emerged quite clearly,” said the lead researcher. An older study put the numbers at an estimated 75 percent of esophageal cancers in the U.S. are attributable to chronic, excessive alcohol consumption and nearly 50 percent of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx are associated with heavy drinking.
Each of the eight cancers can be fatal, and about one in 25 cancer deaths in the U.S. is attributable primarily to alcohol use, while in many more, alcohol is a secondary cause. “Most deaths seemed to occur among people who consumed more than three alcoholic drinks a day, but those who consumed 1.5 beverages daily may account for up to one-third of those deaths,” says Dr. Timothy Naimi, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”
Naimi’s Boston University study (see related article) determined that alcohol-related cancer death took away an average of 18 potential years from a person’s life. Naimi said, “When it comes to cancer, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.”