Alcohol use—whether light, moderate, or heavy—is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers, including those of the breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck, according to evidence gathered by ASCO. In a statement released November 7 identifying alcohol as a definite risk factor for cancer, ASCO emphasizes that 5% to 6% of new cancers and cancer deaths globally are directly attributable to alcohol. This is particularly concerning as 70% of Americans do not recognize drinking alcohol as a risk factor for cancer, according to the National Cancer Opinion Survey conducted by ASCO earlier this year.
“People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes,” said ASCO President Bruce Johnson, MD, FASCO. “However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established and gives the medical community guidance on how to help their patients reduce their risk of cancer.”
ASCO’s National Cancer Opinion Survey—the results of which were released October 24—found that only 38% of Americans were limiting their alcohol intake as a way to reduce their risk for cancer. The national study on Americans’ attitudes about cancer was scientifically conducted online by Harris Poll from July 10–18, 2017, among 4,016 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. It is believed to accurately represent the broader population of the United States.
In addition to raising awareness of the established link between alcohol and cancer—and thereby the opportunity to reduce cancer risk by limiting how much alcohol is consumed—the statement, published by LoConte et al in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also offers evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce excessive alcohol consumption:
“ASCO joins a growing number of cancer care and public health organizations in recognizing that even moderate alcohol use can cause cancer,” said Noelle K. LoConte, MD, lead author of the statement and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “Therefore, limiting alcohol intake is a means to prevent cancer. The good news is that, just like people wear sunscreen to limit their risk of skin cancer, limiting alcohol intake is one more thing people can do to reduce their overall risk of developing cancer.”
Not only does excessive alcohol consumption cause cancer, but it also can delay or negatively impact cancer treatment. Oncologists are uniquely positioned to identify strategies to help their patients reduce their alcohol use; address racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation disparities that may place these populations at increased cancer risk; and serve as community advisors and leaders to raise the awareness of alcohol as a cancer risk behavior.
More information about alcohol as a risk factor for cancer can be found on ASCO’s patient information website, Cancer.Net, on the “Alcohol” page. Additionally, listen to a Cancer.Net podcast about this statement by Dr. LoConte, in which she discusses the relationship between alcohol use and cancer and explains why ASCO released the statement.
The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.