Cancer: Worst drink significantly increasing your risk – abstaining lowers risk by 31%

Deborah James leaves hospital after bowel cancer surgery

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A new study has found a major risk factor which could be worse than smoking and a poor diet. In fact, according to research, by abstaining from a certain drink you can lower your risk of developing cancer by 31 percent. What is it?

A new study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, looked to address factors that increase a person’s risk of cancer.

Researchers from Oxford Population Health, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, used a genetic approach by investigating gene variants linked to alcohol consumption in Asian populations.

The study found that individuals who drank infrequently or not at all due to genetic intolerance to alcohol had an up to 31 percent lower risk of developing certain types of cancer.

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Cancer risk was greatest in people who drank regularly despite having a genetic low alcohol tolerability.

Researchers used a genetic approach to assess possible confounding factors (such as smoking and diet).

The findings are based on data from a large-scale study involving over 150,000 Chinese people, many of whom have genetic variants that affect their alcohol tolerance.

The researchers found that worldwide, alcohol causes an estimated three million deaths each year including 400,000 from cancer.

The results highlight the importance of how alcohol affects disease risk particular in cancer risk.

Evidence strongly indicates that alcohol increases the risk of several types of cancer including head cancer, neck, oesophagus, liver, bowel and breast cancer.

However, it has been difficult to establish whether alcohol directly causes cancer, or if it is linked to possible confounding factors which could generate biased results.

Researchers also found two common genetic variants help to reduce a person’s alcohol tolerability and are strongly associated with lower alcohol intake, because they cause an unpleasant “flushing” effect.

Because these alleles are allocated at birth and are independent of other lifestyle factors (such as smoking), they can be used as a proxy for alcohol intake, to assess how alcohol consumption affects disease risks.

The study team used the data and combined it with questionnaires about drinking habits completed by participants at recruitment and subsequent follow-up visits.

The participants were tracked for a median period of 11 years through linkage to health insurance records and death registers.

Key findings of the study were that men who drank very little alcohol had a 31 percent lower risk of developing cancers that have previously been linked to alcohol.

Lead researcher Doctor Pek Kei from Oxford Population Health said: “These findings indicate that alcohol directly causes several types of cancer, and that these risks may be increased further in people with inherited low alcohol tolerability who cannot properly metabolise alcohol.”

Senior researcher Doctor Iona Millwood also from Oxford Population Health added: “Our study reinforces the need to lower population levels of alcohol consumption for cancer prevention.”

According to Cancer Research UK, there are three main ways alcohol can cause cancer:

Damage to cells. When we drink alcohol, our bodies turn it into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can cause damage to our cells and can also stop the cells from repairing this damage.

Changes to hormones. Alcohol can increase the levels of some hormones such as oestrogen and insulin. Hormones are chemical messengers and higher levels can make cells divide more often, which raises the chance that cancer cells will develop.

Changes to cells in the mouth and throat. Alcohol can make cells in the mouth and throat more likely to absorb harmful chemicals. This makes it easier for cancer-causing substances (like those found in cigarette smoke) to get into the cell and cause damage.

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