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Alcohol causes a significant burden of cancer in 8 countries in Western Europe

Press release 08.04.2011

Research: Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study

About one in ten cancers (10%) in men and one in 33 cancers (3%) in women in Western Europe is caused by former and current alcohol consumption, finds a paper published on bmj.com today.

The study focuses on the following countries: France, Italy, Spain, United
Kingdom, The Netherlands, Greece, Germany and Denmark.

The authors, led by Madlen Schütze at the German Institute of Human
Nutrition in Potsdam Rehbruecke, argue that a substantial proportion (40 to 98%) of the alcohol-attributable cancers occurred in individuals who drank more than the recommended guidelines on upper limits of two drinks a day in men and one drink a day in women.

Theses results are based on risk estimates from the EPIC Study and representative alcohol consumption data compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In the EPIC Study 363,988 men and women, mostly aged between 35 and 70 years at the time of recruitment were followed for cancer since the mid 1990s. The participants completed a detailed questionnaire on diet and lifestyle at entry into the study. Alcohol consumption was measured by specific questions on the amount, frequency and the type of beverage that was consumed at present and in the past.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO, there is a causal link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the liver, female breast, colorectum, and upper aerodigestive tract. However, data had not been available on the number of cancer cases linked to total alcohol consumption or the proportion of cases caused by alcohol consumption beyond recommended upper limit.

The study calculated that in 2008, current and former alcohol consumption by men was responsible for about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract, colorectum, and liver in Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. Over half of these cases (33,000) were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Alcohol consumption by women in the eight countries caused about 21,500 cases of upper aerodigestive tract, liver, colorectum, and breast cancer, of which over 80% (17,400) was due to consumption of more than one drink of beer, wine, or spirits per day.

“Our data shows that many cancer cases could have been avoided if alcohol consumption is limited to two alcoholic drinks per day in men and one alcoholic drink per day in women, which are the recommendations of many health organisations,“ says Madlen Schütze, first author of the study and epidemiologist at German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbruecke,“ and even more cancer cases would be prevented if people reduced their alcohol intake to below recommended guidelines or stopped drinking alcohol at all.“ “Our findings underline the importance to further lower alcohol consumption in Europe and Germany,“ adds Manuela Bergmann, who led a working group on health effects of alcohol consumption as part of a European project associated with the EPIC Study.

Contact:


Dr Manuela Bergmann
Department of Epidemiology
German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany
Tel: +49 (0)33 200 88 715 or +49 (0)33 200 88 711
Email: bergmann@dife.de

 

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