In an opinion piece for the journal Addiction, a New Zealand researcher looked at the body of evidence on alcohol consumption and its link to cancer. She concluded that alcohol likely causes more than a half dozen types of cancer.
"There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites [in the body], and probably others," writes Dr. Jennie Connor, a preventive-medicine doctor at the University of Otago in New Zealand and the author of the study. She says the evidence supports that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus (head and neck cancers), liver, colon, rectum and breast.
And her findings aren't new, Susan Gapstur, MPH, PhD and vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, tells MNN.
"Basically, it's citing and restating that indeed there are causal links between alcoholic beverage consumption and cancer," Gapstur says. "It looked at existing science and framed the evidence in a way to help people understand how the conclusions that alcohol and drinking causes cancer are arrived at."
Gapstur says the new review confirms findings reached by earlier expert panels that determined the causal connection between alcohol and those seven cancers. Although the material isn't new, Connor's reminder is still a good idea, Gapstur says.
"People need to be reminded when they reach for a drink that limiting their consumption is still important," Gapstur says.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women limit themselves to just one drink per day and that men limit themselves to two per day.
In her review, Connor also says there's increasing research that other cancers — such as skin, prostate and pancreas — may also have a strong link to alcohol consumption.
In her review, Connor notes that the exact mechanism for how alcohol causes cancer is not well understood and likely depends on the location in the body where the cancer occurs.
For breast cancer, for example, alcohol may increase the levels of estrogen in the body; estrogen has been linked to cancer. However, with cancers of the head and neck and liver, researchers believe that the compound acetaldehyde is formed when alcohol is digested, causing DNA damage in cells, leading to cancer.