"Alcohol use-whether light, moderate, or heavy-is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers, including those of the breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck", said the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in a statement Wednesday.
One of the biggest problems with the findings is the reality that most people just don't see drinking as a cancer or major health risk factor unless it's truly out of control. Alcohol may also increase the amount of estrogen in the blood, which could explain the link to breast cancer. "If you drink more, even cutting back, but not quitting, will reduce your risk".
Alcohol is directly responsible for 5 to 6 percent of new cancers and cancer deaths worldwide, according to the statement.
With liver cancer, alcohol leads to cirrhosis and cirrhosis, in turn, leads to cancer, but it's not always such a clear chain reaction.
"People are not aware of this", said Susan Gapstur, a vice-president of the American Cancer Society who was not involved with the position statement. "The Cancer Prevention Committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) believes that a proactive stance by the Society to minimize excessive exposure to alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention".
The kind of drink does not appear to matter, but experts say a beer or glass of wine here and there is highly unlikely to cause harm.
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The ASCO defines heavy drinking as "eight or more drinks per week or three or more drinks per day for women, and as many as fifteen or more drinks per week or four or more drinks per day for men". "If you don't drink, don't start". Moderate drinkers also face elevated risks for cancers of the voice box, female breast cancer and colorectal cancers.
If people exercise, eat well and don't drink excessively, they shouldn't worry too much, said LoConte, who said she has about two drinks a month.
Experts also found that drinking alcohol can have an adverse effect on treatment and outcomes for patients with cancer.
"Limiting alcohol intake is a means to prevent cancer", Dr. Noelle LoConte, one of the publication's authors and a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin said in a statement.
Even those who drink moderately, defined by the Centers for Disease Control as one daily drink for women and two for men, face almost a doubling of the risk for mouth and throat cancer and more than double the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, compared to nondrinkers.