A group of the country’s top cancer doctors are taking an unprecedented stance against alcohol, saying that its ties to cancer simply make it too much of a risk to public health, according to a warning published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The doctors aren’t advocating for a return to Prohibition, but they are encouraging people to drink significantly less.
It’s the first time this group, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, has ever spoken out so plainly against drinking. The tipping point for tippling is lower than you might think, they explain: Even less than a drink a day could up your risk of cancer, and prolonged heavy use is especially dangerous, according to the statement.
Their report rounds up significant research tying alcohol to several types of cancer. For example: Scientists have found that even moderate amounts of alcohol can increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by 5 to 9 percent.
Other types of cancer that have convincing links to alcohol consumption include liver, pharyngeal, laryngeal, esophageal, colorectal and many kinds that spread in the mouth and throat, according to research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cited by ASCO. Further research suggests that alcohol may up a person’s risk for pancreatic and gastric cancer.
One study that ASCO cites even found that 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths in the world, in 2012, could be attributed to alcohol.
The group’s warning comes at a time when alcohol consumption is on the rise. In September, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that high-risk drinking - four or more drinks a day for women, five or more for men - has rocketed up by about 30 percent over the past decade. Moderate drinking - less than one drink a day for women and less than two for men - also rose by 11 percent from 2002 to 2013. So doctors worry that a rise in cancer occurrences may follow.
What you drink doesn’t make a difference either, according to ASCO. The risks are the same whether people are drinking wine, beer or spirits. And, yes, that goes for so-called “heart-healthy” red wine drinkers, too. Reports on vino’s health benefits may be overstated, the doctors say.
Dr. Carrie Wilkens, a co-director of the NoMad-based Center for Motivation and Change, says the statement is a stern health reminder that will hopefully make people as serious about alcohol abuse as other kinds of substance abuse, such as opioids.
“The use of alcohol is associated with more deaths than prescription opiates, heroin and cocaine combined,” Wilkens told the Post. “People often drink alcohol mindlessly. It’s accepted in our culture and people don’t really stay conscious of the risks associated with using it. So if the study increases awareness and gets people thinking about the risks they might be taking, then that is a great outcome.”
It’s hard to say what a less risky amount of alcohol would be, since everyone has different personal risk factors and health issues - but even less than one drink a day might be on the high side, said Dr. Marleen Meyers, the director of Cancer Survivorship at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center.
“When making a decision about how much to drink, particularly for cancer reduction, less is probably best, meaning no more than one to two drinks per week or less,” Meyers said.
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