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Reducing alcohol intake may reduce cancer risk

Alcohol is a major preventable risk factor for cancer. New data suggest that reducing alcohol intake reduces the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.

The findings, which come from a large population-based study conducted in Korea, underscore the importance of encouraging individuals to quit drinking or to reduce alcohol consumption to help reduce cancer risk, say the authors.

The study was published online August 24 in JAMA Network Open.

It provides evidence “suggesting that cancer risk can be meaningfully altered by changing the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed,” say the authors of an accompanying editorial, Neal D. Freedman, PhD, and Christian C. Abnet, PhD, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland.

“Alcohol consumption is an important cancer risk factor,” they write, adding that a “well examined dose-response association has been reported, with highest risks observed among people who drink 3 alcoholic beverages per day and higher.”

The new study shows that a “reduction in use was associated with lower risk, particularly among participants who started drinking at a heavy level,” they note.

Previous studies have estimated that alcohol use accounts for nearly 4% of newly diagnosed cancers worldwide and nearly 5% of US cancer cases overall.

But the figures are much higher for some specific cancers. That same US study found that alcohol accounts for ≥45% of oral cavity/pharyngeal cancers and ≥25% of laryngeal cancers, as well as 12.1% of female breast cancers, 11.1% of colorectal cancers, 10.5% of liver cancers, and 7.7% of esophageal cancers, as previously reported by Medscape Medical News.

Dr Michael Greger discusses the link between alcohol consumption and cancer.  Learn more about it here.