February 27, 2009
Alcohol Boosts Cancer Risk In Women

1 drink of alcohol per day is enough to substantially boost cancer risks in women.

Low to moderate alcohol consumption among women is associated with a statistically significant increase in cancer risk and may account for nearly 13 percent of the cancers of the breast, liver, rectum, and upper aero-digestive tract combined, according to a report in the February 24 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

With the exception of breast cancer, little has been known about the impact of low to moderate alcohol consumption on cancer risk in women.

To determine the impact of alcohol on overall and site-specific cancer risk, Naomi Allen, D.Phil., of the University of Oxford, U.K., and colleagues examined the association of alcohol consumption and cancer incidence in the Million Women Study, which included 1,280,296 middle-aged women in the United Kingdom. Participants were recruited to the study between 1996 and 2001. Researchers identified cancer cases through the National Health Service Central Registries.

Women in the study who drank alcohol consumed, on average, one drink per day, which is typical in most high-income countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. Very few drank three or more drinks per day. With an average follow-up time of more than 7 years, 68,775 women were diagnosed with cancer.

Alcohol boosts risks for an assortment of cancers.

Each additional alcoholic drink regularly consumed per day was associated with 11 additional breast cancers per 1000 women up to age 75; one additional cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx; one additional cancer of the rectum; and an increase of 0.7 each for esophageal, laryngeal, and liver cancers. For these cancers combined, there was an excess of about 15 cancers per 1000 women per drink per day. (The background incidence for these cancers was estimated to be 118 per 1000 women in developed countries.)

Less alcohol could be combined with more calcium to lower cancer risks.

Women with higher intake of calcium appear to have a lower risk of cancer overall, and both men and women with high calcium intakes have lower risks of colorectal cancer and other cancers of the digestive system, according to a report in the February 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Calcium is known to benefit bone health, according to background information in the article. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine recommends 1,200 milligrams of calcium for adults age 50 and older, and the 2005 dietary guidelines for Americans recommend 3 cups per day of low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Studies of dairy products, calcium intake and cancer have revealed different results for different cancer sites.

The top fifth in calcium consumption are a much less risk for cancer.

"In both men and women, dairy food and calcium intakes were inversely associated with cancers of the digestive system," the authors write. The one-fifth of men who consumed the most calcium through food and supplements (about 1,530 milligrams per day) had a 16 percent lower risk of these types of cancer than the one-fifth who consumed the least (526 milligrams per day). For women, those in the top one-fifth of calcium consumption (1,881 milligrams per day) had a 23 percent lower risk than those in the bottom one-fifth (494 milligrams per day). The decreased risk was particularly pronounced for colorectal cancer. Calcium and dairy food intake was not associated with prostate cancer, breast cancer or cancer in any other anatomical system besides the digestive system.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 27 12:52 AM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies

Jake said at February 27, 2009 4:27 AM:

All calcium supplements include Vitamin D. The cancer protection comes from the Vitamin D and not the calcium.

Greg said at February 27, 2009 5:14 AM:

Unfortunately, the article doesn't try to account for other types of health damaging behavior or conditions that might be correlated with alcohol drinking (like smoking, lack of exercise, living in unhealthy conditions, marital status, number of children), thus the scientific result of this article is zero.

mark leo said at February 27, 2009 8:53 AM:

100% agree with Greg. This shtick is absolutely worn out and I personally am tired of it. One correlation does not a cause make...call it coincidence and leave it at that.

BBM said at February 27, 2009 5:20 PM:

But these types of studies are so easy to churn out with minimal effort!!!!

RealSci said at February 27, 2009 11:55 PM:

Association is not causation. This common fallacy is perpetuated by media. Less alcohol, more calcium, and more vitamin D, have yet to be proven to cause any of these things - their use is just associated with these things. This nonsense pop-sci approach to health never ends. Drinking alcohol is strongly associated with longer life and less cardiac events, so I guess women must live longer and better with cancer if they have a glass of alcohol each day. Cheers!

The fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") and false cause.

Randall Parker said at February 28, 2009 1:19 PM:

Yes, correlation is not causation. But do you think researchers who do these sorts of studies do not try to control for other factors? Also, do you think this study is one of a kind? The alcohol-cancer link has a large body of research behind it.

You can (with little effort) find studies that point to mechanism of action. Most of what I have come across points toward ethanol's angiogenesis effect - which is probably also providing some heart benefit. For example:

Conclusion: These data demonstrate that ethanol, at levels consistent with moderate consumption, enhances endothelial angiogenic activity in vitro by stimulating a novel Notch/CBF-1/RBP-JK–Ang1/Tie2-dependent pathway. These actions of ethanol may be relevant to the cardiovascular effects of alcohol consumption purported by epidemiological studies.
simone said at March 2, 2009 7:24 PM:

Did you actually look at the study? The conclusions certainly do not support the assertions made by the authors and press. I encourage you to review the findings. You may wish to make some corrections

RealSci said at March 3, 2009 4:58 AM:

Concerning Randall Parker's comment, identifying potential mechanisms of action do not assure that the observed association is causal. The posting mentions calcium reducing the risk of cancer. Large randomized trials have been performed with calcium and/or vitamin D. One thing they seem to clearly indicate is calcium does not reduce fractures in elderly women, and does not improve survival. Vitamin D in such trials has had mixed results, and may have benefits. We can argue if the calcium was starteed early enough or given long enough, etc.

Concerning the statment that researchers "try to control for other factors" in these studies, of course they do. But they lack far too much information to fully control for other possibilities, and even if they had endless information, one can only control for what you think might influence the result. Scientists cannot correct for what they don't know about affects the result. This is why randomized trials are so important.

The average reader would be very wise to ignore all these association studies - they are hypothesis generating alone - and do all things in moderation.

cancer_man said at March 5, 2009 6:28 PM:

I disagree that "these studies" try to control for other factors. The better ones try, but many such cancer studies over the past few years clearly aren't controling for very basic variables. I just read that a doctor called this a "strong study." Of course, it is at best interesting and quite weak.

One simple but interesting study in 2006 was conducted by a doctor who followed middle aged patients for many years and decided to record who got colon cancer and what all his patients drank with respect to alcohol. red wine drinkers had a 3% incidenence of colon cancer, abstainers, beer and other alcohol drinkers had a 10% risk. The interesting part was that even white wine drinkers had a 10% risk, lending evidence that it isn't other dietary issues. If so, one would expect all wine drinkers to eat fewer fries and burgers than the beer swiggers.

Doug K said at April 25, 2009 9:53 AM:

Cancer man could you reference that story? I havent been able to find it.

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