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Light Alcohol Consumption Linked with Higher Cancer Risk

It’s previously been reported that no amount of alcohol consumption is good for your health, though the negative effects of light consumption are less severe than the effects of heavy consumption. However, a new study conducted in Japan has concluded that light to moderate alcohol consumption is also linked with elevated cancer risk. The study, which was published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, found that one’s overall risk of cancer was lowest when they did not consume any alcohol at all.

The recent student contradicts previous research on the subject, which has linked limited alcohol consumption with lower risks of some types of cancer. The new study, however, is much broader in scope than previous research that has been conducted on the topic, as it examines information from 33 Japanese general hospitals, totalling 126,464 patients, half of which belong to a control group and half of which were patients with cancer. The collected data spanned over a decade, from 2005-2016, and was controlled for sex, age, hospital admission date, and admitting hospital.

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The research is based in large part on patients’ self-reported amounts of daily alcohol consumption, using the measurement of standardized alcohol units. For example, one standardized alcohol unit is equivalent to one cup of Japanese sake, one 17-ounce bottle of beer, one 6-ounce glass of wine, or one 2-ounce cup of whiskey.

The correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer risk was almost linear, meaning that one’s risk of developing cancer increases at the same rate that one consumes alcohol. The cancer risk was lowest at no alcohol consumption, and one drink per day for ten years increased patients’ cancer risk by five percent. This finding held true regardless of a person’s sex, drinking and smoking behaviors, and social class. The most common areas in which cancer develops relating to alcohol consumption include the colorectum, stomach, breast, prostate, and esophagus.

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In Japan, as well as in many places around the world, the primary cause of death is cancer. While this study is limited to patients in Japanese hospitals, it is likely that the findings apply to other populations as well. Hopefully, this study will help to dispel ongoing myths that a small amount of alcohol consumption has a neutral or even positive effect on one’s health, as cancer is a debilitating and terrible disease. Cancer is not the only health risk associated with alcohol consumption; excessive use of alcohol has also been linked to high blood pressure, mental health issues that affect both one’s mood and cognition, and addiction. 

While binge drinking or other forms of excessive alcohol consumption pose much more substantial health risks than more responsible forms of drinking, many still believe that having a glass of wine with dinner several times a week, for instance, is good for one’s health. As the science surrounding the health effects of alcohol consumption continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly clear that this widespread belief is not based in fact.