Alcohol and Cancer Risk Reconsidered

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Having valued communications from ASCO since its birth, I was disappointed by the Society’s position on alcohol consumption and cancer risk, as published in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO)1 and summarized in the November 25 issue of The ASCO Post. The statement seems to me more polemical than scientifically based.

References are selective, culled to support a point of view. Tired, long discredited hypotheses are resurrected without new backing. I can only conclude that cardiovascular and other benefits of moderate drinking, long and repeatedly confirmed by epidemiologic studies (and to a lesser extent, in the laboratory), and reduction of total mortality among light to moderate drinkers were de-emphasized deliberately, or else we are looking at shocking ignorance.


Letters to the editor represent the views of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of ASCO or The ASCO Post.

We can agree that excessive drinking, especially in binges, is harmful, and that heavy drinking contributes to the risks of aero-digestive and hepatic cancers. The possible role of drinking in the risk of breast and colorectal cancers is complicated by a number of factors—including the type of beverage, drinking pattern, underreporting of consumption, and folate intake—and requires further study. The role of moderate drinking in the risks of other cancers is trivial, if any. A close reading of the pertinent scientific literature suggests that light to moderate drinking has a net effect that is healthful and associated with increased longevity.

The educational goals of ASCO are laudable, but to me the piece in JCO overreached, looking like a grab at publicity more than a prudent statement of medical science. More data are needed.

—Harvey E. Finkel, MD
Clinical Professor of Medicine (Hematology-Oncology), retired
Boston University Medical Center

DISCLOSURE: Dr. Finkel is a paid contributor to The New England Wine Gazzette and Massachusetts Beverage Business publications.


1. LoConte NK, Brewster AM, Kaur JS, et al: Alcohol and cancer: A statement of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. J Clin Oncol. November 7, 2017 (early release online).