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Booze Blamed for One in 30 Cancer Deaths

Even light drinking can significantly boost cancer risk, a study finds.

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Even moderate drinking ups cancer risk.
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By Valerie Tejeda

02/15/13

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Alcohol is responsible for one in every 30 cancer deaths a year in the US, and up to one in six deaths from breast cancer, a new study finds. The research, published in American Journal of Public Health, shows that the correlation between drinking and cancer—long debated by health professionals—is real. "As expected, people who are higher alcohol users were at higher risk, but there was really no safe level of alcohol use," says study author Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the US National Cancer Institute. Even light drinking poses a risk: the study shows 30% of all alcohol-related cancer deaths are linked to 1.5 drinks or less a day. Moderate drinking has been associated with some heart benefits, but Nelson says the risks far outweigh the benefits: “In the broader context of all the issues and all the problems that alcohol is related to, alcohol causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents.” It is still unknown why alcohol raises cancer risk, but one theory suggests that booze may damage sensitive cells in the body, impeding DNA repair. It may also act as a "solvent," allowing carcinogenic chemicals to enter into cells more easily. Drinking may also affect hormone levels, such as estrogen, which could explain the link to breast cancer. Those who believe they may be at risk for cancer are advised to lower their booze consumption—or better yet, cut it out entirely—says Nelson: "From a cancer prevention perspective, the less you drink, the lower your risk of an alcohol-related cancer and, obviously, if one doesn't drink at all then that's the lowest risk.”

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