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Drinking Moderately or More Ups Men's Cancer Risk

Canadian study links regular alcohol consumption to six cancers

FRIDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A man who drinks moderate or high amounts of alcohol over the course of his life appears to raise his risk for developing certain -- but not all -- kinds of cancer, a new crunching of quarter-century-old research data suggests.

The study, by Canadian researchers, found that the more men drink, the greater their risk for specific cancers. However, the link appears to involve mostly beer and spirit consumption, not wine. The study did not explore risk among women.

"We found that with lifetime alcohol consumption, cancer risk among men increases for some of the 13 cancers we looked at," said study author Andrea Benedetti, an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal. "Those include esophageal, colon, stomach, liver, lung and prostate cancers."

"And we also found that ... those with the highest consumption had a quite higher risk increase for these cancers, relative to lower-consumption drinkers," Benedetti said. She worked on the study while a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Quebec.

A report on the findings has been published online in Cancer Detection and Prevention.

Associations between alcohol consumption and cancer have been the subject of much study, the researchers pointed out, with indications that alcohol could be the prime culprit in up to 5 percent of deaths from all cancers combined.

One recent study specifically revealed that heavy drinking in particular raises the risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer in men while undermining the effectiveness of the popular prostate cancer prevention drug finasteride (Proscar). Another study suggested that, among women, even moderate drinking might elevate risk for breast, liver and other cancers.

The Canadian research team used data first collected in the 1980s for a study that sought to examine potential links between hundreds of occupational hazards and cancer risk.

Participants in that study were men between the ages of 35 and 70 who had been diagnosed with any of 20 cancers. Collected data included ethnicity, income, smoking history, diet and occupational exposures, as well as alcohol consumption patterns.

For the new study, the researchers focused on nearly 3,600 people for whom they had data on alcohol use as well as their cancer history. Types of cancer represented were bladder, colon, esophageal, kidney, liver, lung, Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, prostate, rectal and stomach.

Among men considered "regular drinkers," defined as drinking on a daily or weekly basis, alcohol was linked to an increased risk for nearly half of the cancer types -- specifically, esophageal, stomach, colon, liver, lung and prostate cancer.

And the more alcohol that such regular drinkers consumed, the higher their risk rose relative to those who did not drink at all or drank infrequently, the study reported.

Although Benedetti noted that "wine consumption was not an issue," she also acknowledged that the researchers "weren't able to look at the impact of wine as much as we wanted to because we didn't have enough information available."

"And I wouldn't want to say that heavy wine drinking, for example, is OK," she cautioned. "But it appears from what we found that light and moderate drinking of wine is not linked to an increased risk for cancer, while light and moderate consumption of beer and spirits does have some risk attached to it."

However, William J. Blot, associate director of research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn., questioned the impact that the study might have.

"This study looked at data that is actually 25 years old," Blot said. "And it's been known for a long time that particularly heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain types of cancer."

"We've known, for example, for maybe 30 years now that heavy drinking increases the risk for esophageal cancer," he said. "And drinking and oral cancer of the oral cavity and larynx are also well-established risks. Those are the strongest associations previously identified, although pancreatic and liver cancers have also been linked in the past, while lung cancer has generally not been considered to be an alcohol-related cancer because, in reality, it's really almost impossible to de-link smokers from drinkers since the two behaviors tend to overlap so frequently."

Blot also noted that, when broken down by cancer type, the number of men with some of the cancers was "not particularly large."

The study included all types of cancer from the original study that had been diagnosed in at least 25 participants. The numbers ranged from a low of 28 men with liver cancer to a high of 700 with lung cancer.

"There have been other studies with quite a few more patients that, therefore, have more precise information," Blot said. "So, I would say there is really nothing new or striking about this finding."

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on alcohol and cancer.

SOURCES: Andrea Benedetti, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal; William J. Blot, Ph.D., professor and associate director, cancer prevention, control and population-based research, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, Tenn.; May 2009 Cancer Detection and Prevention, online

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