Drinking alcohol causes at least seven kinds of cancer, a new study warned on Friday.
According to the Daily Mail of UK, researchers said even people who drink low levels are at risk of developing the disease – killing off the idea that a glass of red wine can be good for you.
Although the exact mechanism is not known, there is ‘strong evidence’ alcohol increases the risk of developing the disease, experts said.
Alcohol causes cancer of the mouth and throat, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, bowel and breast, but may also cause other forms. And even drinking small amounts raises the risk.
Professor Jennie Connor of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at Otago Medical School in New Zealand conducted the review of research taking into account the latest studies.
She said alcohol is estimated to have caused half a million deaths since 2012 – amounting to more than one in 20 – 5.8 per cent – of all cancer deaths.
Professor Connor added: “There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites, and probably others.
“Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause.”
She said there is no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer. However, the risks are reduced for some forms when people stop drinking.
The supposed health benefits of drinking – such as red wine being good for the heart – were seen as irrelevant in comparison to the increased risk of cancer.
Professor Connor said the evidence shows the relation between alcohol and cancer is ‘dose dependent’ – in other words the more you drink, the greater the risk.
The research reinforces guidelines issued in January by the UK’s chief medical officers, who said no level of regular drinking is without risks to health.
Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said each time she has a drink, she asks herself “do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?”
In light of the medical officers’ report, NHS guidelines now advise men should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, down from the previous 21 units, bringing them into line with the recommendation for women.
Fourteen units is around seven pints of medium strength lager, or nine and a third 125ml glasses of medium strength wine.
Officers also warned women who regularly drink two units a day have a 16 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer and dying from it.
And those who regularly consume five units a day have a 40 per cent increased risk. For every 1,000 women who don’t drink, 109 will develop breast cancer.
This rises to 126 women for those who drink 14 units or less per week, and 153 women for those who drink 14 to 35 units a week.
Scientists are still researching how alcohol can lead to cancer – but one theory is alcohol damages DNA.
Susannah Brown, science programme manager for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), said many people wrongly believe alcohol consumption is only linked to liver cancer.
She said: “Among other evidence, we see the risk increasing as the amount of alcohol consumed increases, and we agree there is solid evidence to conclude that alcohol consumption directly causes cancer.
“For cancer prevention, we have long recommended people should not drink alcohol at all, but we understand this can be easier said than done.”
Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at Imperial College, London, said the research is “a useful summary of alcohol and cancer.”
Pointing out recent research by Cancer Research UK that 90 per cent of the public are unaware alcohol causes cancer, he said: “The science is now well established. The main difficulty is communicating effectively with the public.”