Alcohol Drives GI Cancers


By Dr. Randolph Howes, MD, PhD

Europe is headed for a dramatic increase in rates of alcohol-related digestive cancers unless corrective efforts are implemented to revamp the cultural status quo in a region where the per capita daily drinking rates are the highest in the world. In 1988, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared alcohol to be a cancer-causing agent (carcinogen). Let’s examine the incriminating data against alcohol consumption, which says that no amount of alcohol is safe. Actually, that is the conclusion of the 2014 World Cancer Report (WCR), issued by the World Health Organization’s IARC, which says that the more alcohol that a person drinks, the higher the risk. The alcohol/cancer link has been strengthened by the finding of a dose/response relationship between alcohol consumption and certain cancers.Adults in all 28-member states of the European Union face a 21% increased risk for colorectal and esophageal cancer with an average alcohol consumption of two drinks per day. More than one fifth of the European population aged 15 years and older are drinking heavily at least once a week. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined at one to four drinks per day. “Heavy” drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks each day, is associated with a significantly increased risk for pancreatic, liver, and gastric cancer.The five most common digestive cancers in the world — colorectal, esophageal, pancreatic, liver, and gastric — are responsible for more than three million deaths annually and more than a third of cancer deaths globally. According to the World Health Organization, in 2016, annual per capita consumption of pure alcohol in the EU was estimated to be 27 liters, compared to 22 liters in the United States. This translates into a per capita alcohol consumption in the United States that is one third that of Europe.By 2030, the number of new cases of cancer is expected to rise by eight million, and by 2050, the number of cancer deaths is predicted to increase by five million. Sadly, 9 out of 10 Europeans are not aware of the link between drinking and digestive cancer risk, even though 30% of deaths from gastrointestinal diseases can be directly attributed to alcohol. There appears to be a profoundly worse impact of alcohol on the health of women compared to men. Results from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer Study show that a single daily drink of alcohol is linked to 80% of cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, colon, and liver in women. In men, two drinks a day is attributed to 57% of cases of digestive cancer.

In the America that I love, there needs to be an urgent message recommending a dramatic shift in attitudes towards social drinking.