Alcohol consumption accounted for 4% of all cancers diagnosed worldwide in 2020, with three quarters of these cancers occurring in men. The most common cancer locations were the esophagus, liver, and breast.
The finding comes from an analysis carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It was published online in The Lancet Oncology on July 13.
“We urgently need to raise awareness about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk among policymakers and the general public,” said lead author Harriet Rumgay, BSc, Cancer Surveillance Branch, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.
“Public health strategies, such as reduced alcohol availability, labeling alcohol products with a health warning, and marketing bans, could reduce rates of alcohol-driven cancer,” she added. She noted that taxation and pricing policies already in place in Europe could be implemented worldwide.
Commenting on the study, Mark Petticrew, professor of public health evaluation at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom, agreed that there is a need to raise public awareness about this risk. There is “a lot of misinformation out there, some from the alcohol industry itself.
“The public needs clear, independent information, and this large, robust study makes a significant contribution to clarifying the risks,” he added. It “provides further clear evidence that alcohol consumption contributes to a significant burden of cancer, particularly heavy drinking.”
To estimate the burden of alcohol-attributable cancer, Rumgay and colleagues gathered cancer incidence data from GLOBOCAN 2020 for a range of cancers and for all cancers combined.
Assuming a 10-year latency period between alcohol consumption and cancer diagnosis, they examined per capita alcohol consumption estimates for 2010 from the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health. The estimates were stratified by age and sex.
The results suggested that 741,300 (4.1%) of all incident cancer cases in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption, with 568,700 (76.7%) of those cases occurring in men.
The age-standardized incidence rate of alcohol-attributable cancer was 13.4 per 100,000 in men and 3.7 per 100,000 in women.
Heavy drinking (defined as >60 g/d), accounted for 46.7% of the alcool-attributable cancers. Risky drinking (defined as 20–60 g/d), accounted for 29.4%.
Moderate drinking (<20 g/d, which is the equivalent of around two daily drinks) contributed 13.9% of cases of alcohol-attributable cancers.