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J Prev Med Public Health. 2015 Jan;48(1):1-9. doi: 10.3961/jpmph.14.052. Epub 2015 Jan 27.

Alcohol as a risk factor for cancer: existing evidence in a global perspective.

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Danish Cancer Society Research Center, Copenhagen, Denmark ; Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


The purpose of the present review is to give an overview of the association between alcohol intake and the risk of developing cancer. Two large-scale expert reports; the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)/American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) report from 2007, including its continuous update project, and the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) monograph from 2012 have extensively reviewed this association in the last decade. We summarize and compare their findings, as well as relate these to the public health impact, with a particular focus on region-specific drinking patterns and disease tendencies. Our findings show that alcohol intake is strongly linked to the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, colorectum (in men), and female breast. The two expert reports diverge on the evidence for an association with liver cancer and colorectal cancer in women, which the IARC grades as convincing, but the WCRF/AICR as probable. Despite these discrepancies, there does, however, not seem to be any doubt, that the Population Attributable Fraction of alcohol in relation to cancer is large. As alcohol intake varies largely worldwide, so does, however, also the Population Attributable Fractions, ranging from 10% in Europe to almost 0% in countries where alcohol use is banned. Given the World Health Organization's prediction, that alcohol intake is increasing, especially in low- and middle-income countries, and steadily high in high-income countries, the need for preventive efforts to curb the number of alcohol-related cancers seems growing, as well as the need for taking a region- and gender-specific approach in both future campaigns as well as future research. The review acknowledges the potential beneficial effects of small doses of alcohol in relation to ischaemic heart disease, but a discussion of this lies without the scope of the present study.


Alcohol; Incidence; Mortality; Neoplasms; Population Attributable Fraction; Review

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