Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women and
two drinks a day for men, say experts
TORONTO (August 19, 2015) – Even
light and moderate drinking (up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for
men) is associated with an increased risk of
certain alcohol-related cancers in both men and women, suggests a large study published by The BMJ today.
Among women, light to moderate drinking (up to one drink per day) was associated with an increased risk of
alcohol-related cancers, mainly breast cancer.
Risk was also higher among light and moderate
drinking men (up
to two drinks per day), but only in those who
had ever smoked. No association was found in men who had never smoked.
Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to increased risk of
However, the association between light to moderate drinking and
overall cancer risk is less clear. The role of alcohol independent of smoking
has also not been settled.
So a team of US researchers based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, set out to determine whether
light to moderate drinking is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
They used data from two large US studies that tracked the health
of 88,084 women and 47,881 men for up to 30 years. They assessed risk of total
cancer as well as known alcohol-related cancers including cancer of the bowel,
female breast, liver and oral cancers.
Light to moderate drinking was defined as up to one standard drink
or 15g alcohol per day for women and up to two standard drinks or 30g alcohol
per day for men. One standard drink is roughly equivalent to a small (125ml)
glass of wine or a 330ml bottle of beer.
Influential factors, such as age, ethnicity, body mass index,
family history of cancer, smoking, physical activity and diet were also taken
During the follow-up period, a total of 19,269 and 7,571 cancers
were diagnosed in women and men, respectively. The
researchers found that overall, light to moderate
drinking was associated with a small but non-significant increased risk of
total cancer in both men and women, regardless of smoking history.
For alcohol-related cancers, risk was increased
among light and moderate drinking men who had ever smoked, but not among men
who never smoked. However, even in never smoking women, risk of alcohol-related
cancers, mainly breast cancer, increased even within the range of up to one
drink a day.
This large study sheds further light on the relationship between
light to moderate drinking and cancer, says Dr Jürgen
Rehm at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in
Toronto, in an accompanying editorial.
More research is needed to explore the interaction between smoking
and drinking on risk of cancer, he says. But, roughly speaking, women should
not exceed one standard drink as day and men should not exceed two standard
drinks a day.
Finally, people with a family history of cancer “should consider
reducing their intake to below recommended limits or even abstaining
altogether, given the now well established link between moderate drinking and
alcohol-related cancers,” he concludes.
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