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How does the risk of developing cancer change after alcohol consumption is increased, stopped, or reduced?
Findings In a new study of over 4 million adults in Korea, those who increased their alcohol consumption had a higher risk for alcohol-related cancers and all cancers compared with those who had sustained levels of drinking, whereas those who reduced their alcohol consumption had a lower risk. Although an increased risk was observed temporarily after quitting drinking, no increased risk was observed when quitting was sustained.
Meaning Findings of this study suggest that promoting drinking reduction and cessation could lead to the reduction of incidences of cancer.
People who increased the amount of alcohol they drank also had an increased risk of cancer, according to the results of a large study in Korea published recently in JAMA Network Open. The study found that people who increased the amount they drank had a higher risk of all cancers, including alcohol-related cancers, than the group that made no changes to their drinking habits. The risk also increased for non-drinkers who changed their habits and became mild, moderate or heavy drinkers.
The study looked at data from more than 4.5 million participants. The study participants were from the Korean National Health Insurance Service, were 40 years old and up, had taken part in a national health screening in 2009 and 2011, and had available data on their drinking status.
"In this large cohort study that used repeated measures of alcohol consumption, we found that individuals who increased their alcohol consumption, regardless of their baseline drinking level, had an increased incidence of alcohol-related and all cancers compared with those who sustained their current level of drinking," wrote the study authors from the Seoul National University Hospital. "Quitting was not associated with a lower incidence of alcohol-related cancer, but if abstinence was maintained over time, the incidence of alcohol-related and all cancers tended to decrease."
In those who increased their drinking from being non-drinkers, the researchers found a high incidence of stomach, liver, gallbladder, and lung cancer, multiple myeloma, and leukemia.
Fortunately, abstaining from alcohol consumption over time was linked to an inverse association. “Quitting was not associated with a lower incidence of alcohol-related cancer, but if abstinence was maintained over time, the incidence of alcohol-related and all cancers tended to decrease,” the researchers wrote. “Reducing drinking from heavy to moderate or mild levels was associated with a decreased risk of alcohol-related and all cancers.”
Additionally, among mild drinkers, cancer risks decreased slightly when they quit drinking. According to the researchers, the study solidifies previous research that shows “there is no safe level of alcohol consumption in terms of cancer risk. …Alcohol cessation and reduction should be reinforced for the prevention of cancer,” they wrote.
Researchers pointed out that the association was changed for women, in part due to the sample size. Not enough women changed their drinking patterns throughout the study, and 73.1% had a nondrinking level “to show statistical significance.”
The American Cancer Society (ACS) calls alcohol use "one of the most important preventable risk factors for cancer, along with tobacco use and excess body weight." The organization says that drinking accounts for around 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the US.
People who increased the amount of alcohol they drank also had an increased risk of cancer, according to the results of a large study in Korea published on Wednesday in JAMA Network Open. The risk also increased for non-drinkers who changed their habits and became mild, moderate, or heavy drinkers.
"This is another great example of how changing behavior could significantly decrease cancer deaths," Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, told CNN in an email. "The most striking findings is the impact on cancer deaths with changes in alcohol consumption. Individuals should be strongly counseled that they can dramatically decrease their cancer risk if alcohol consumption is moderated."