Alcohol use linked to more than 700K cancer cases last year: study

In a new study published in the latest edition of The Lancet medical journal, alcohol consumption was found to be a cause in more than 700,000 new cancer cases worldwide last year.

The figures presented in the study represent about 4.1 percent of all new cancer cases in 2020. About three-fourths of the new cases, some 568,700, were observed in male patients.

As the study notes, alcohol consumption has previously been linked to cancers of the digestive tract, colon, rectum, liver and breasts.


The researchers observed that the population attributable fraction (PAF), or the percentage of the population believed to be affected by this, had actually become lower over the past few years on a global scale. They attributed this to an overall decrease in alcohol consumption, particularly in southern Europe.

The lowest PAF's were observed in northern Africa and western Asia across all genders. Notably, these regions are home to large populations of Muslim people who generally don't consume alcohol.

The highest PAF's of alcohol-attributable cancers were observed in men in eastern Asia as well as men and women in central and eastern Europe.

The majority of cases were attributed to "risky and heavy drinking," but more than 100,000 were also linked to moderate drinking.

According the researchers, there are multiple avenues through which alcohol can lead to cancers, including damage caused by the alcoholic metabolite acetaldehyde — a known carcinogen — as well as hormonal changes caused by alcohol. Ethanol may also contribute to cancer by acting as a solvent for other carcinogens such as chemicals found in tobacco.