Alcohol use at any level is associated with higher risks for several leading cancers, including those of the head and neck, esophagus, colon, and breast, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
In a statement released Nov. 7 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, ASCO said it has evidence identifying alcohol consumption as a definite cancer risk, citing 5 to 6 percent of new cancers and deaths related to cancer around the world as directly tied to alcoholic use.
National Cancer Opinion Survey
The organization is particularly concerned because 70 percent of Americans don't recognize alcoholic consumption as a cancer risk factor, based on the National Cancer Opinion Survey, ASCO conducted earlier in 2017. Additionally, excessive alcohol use has also been found to negatively affect cancer treatment.
"People typically don't associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes," said Dr. Bruce Johnson, ASCO president. He added, however, that the link between alcohol and cancer has been established firmly, giving the medical community much-needed guidance on how people can reduce risks for the disease.
Oncologists in particular are in a unique position to identify strategies that can aid patients in reducing alcohol consumption, addressing disparities that may place certain populations at increased risk, and serving as advisors to the community to raise awareness that alcoholic behavior has links to the disease.
Released Oct. 24, the National Cancer Opinion Survey discovered that just 38 percent of Americans were making the effort to limit their alcohol consumption as a means of reducing risks for cancer. Commissioned by ASCO, the study on American attitudes toward the disease involved 4,016 adults in the United States at least 18 years old and was conducted online from July 10-18, 2017 by Harris Poll. The researchers believe it accurately represents the country's broader population.
Policy Recommendations To Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Aside from establishing the connection between alcohol and cancer, ASCO's statement also included policy recommendations to cut down on excessive alcohol intake, such as:
• Providing alcohol screening and brief interventions carried out in clinical settings
• Regulating the density of alcohol outlets
• Increasing prices of and taxes on alcohol
• Limiting hours and days of sale
• Enhancing enforcement of laws banning sales to minors
• Restricting youth exposure to advertisements for alcohol
• Resisting further privatization involving retail alcohol sales within communities by using current means of control by the government
• Including strategies to control alcohol in comprehensive control plans for cancer
• Promoting the end of "pinkwashing" or the exploitation of the color to show support for finding a breast cancer cure when alcohol itself increases risks of breast cancer