Each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost, the researchers added.
Previous studies have shown drinking is a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and, in women, breast cancer, the researchers noted.
According to the American Cancer Society, it's not entirely clear how alcohol might raise cancer risk. Alcohol might act as a chemical irritant to sensitive cells, impeding their DNA repair, or damage cells in other ways. It might also act as a "solvent" for other carcinogens, such as those found in tobacco smoke, helping those chemicals enter into cells more easily. Or alcohol might affect levels of key hormones such as estrogen, upping odds for breast cancer.
One expert says the findings in this study are consistent with what has been shown before.
"Nobody is recommending that if you do not drink to start drinking for any reason," said Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology at the cancer society. "If you do drink, limit your consumption."
Gapstur did point out that smoking is a much more powerful factor in cancer deaths than alcohol. Although some 20,000 cancer deaths can be attributed to alcohol each year, more than 100,000 cancer deaths are caused by smoking, she said.
To strike a balance between the cancer risk of drinking and its possible benefit in preventing heart disease, Gapstur suggested talking with your doctor about the risks and benefits of drinking.
For more on alcohol and cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: David Nelson, M.D., M.P.H., director, Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, U.S. National Cancer Institut
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