Two alcoholic drinks a day raises cancer risks, says study

Irish people who drink an average of two alcoholic drinks a day are placing themselves at an increased risk of developing bowel and oesophageal cancer.

A report by the medical group United European Gastroenterology (UEG) found that, although Irish people drink a “moderate” 1.9 alcoholic drinks a day — the average amount for the EU28 as a whole — this still greatly increases the risk of contracting a range of different cancers.

For example, even light drinking of up to one alcoholic drink a day carries an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. Consuming between one and four alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by as much as 21% while taking four or more alcoholic drinks a day is linked to an increased risk of liver, gastric, and pancreatic cancer.

Taken together, these are the five most common digestive cancers and cause almost 3m deaths every year around the world — one third of the total global cancer deaths.

Bowel or colorectal (CRC) cancer is the second most common cancer in Europe (13%) and is the most common digestive cancer, accounting for about half of all digestive cancers in Europe.

The UEG report found that Europeans drink more alcohol than people on any other continent. Lithuania is Europe’s heaviest drinking nation followed by the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Belgium.

The European arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that only one in 20 of those with hazardous or harmful alcohol use are identified and offered advice by a primary care provider and that less than one in 20 with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence have seen a specialist for treatment.

Prof Matthias Lohr of the UEG highlighted the close link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk — particularly bowel cancer.

“There is a very strong dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of CRC,” he said.

“Primary care teams should be properly supported to identify and treat individuals consuming hazardous levels of alcohol and be vigilant to the signs of CRC in heavy drinkers.”

“As healthcare professionals, we need to educate our patients about the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, but we also need to intervene early when we suspect an individual is drinking too much and factor alcohol consumption into our CRC risk assessments.”

Prof Lohr also said it was a concern that there was such a low level of intervention for those struggling with alcohol dependence right across Europe.

The UEG represents over 22,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology, and endoscopy.

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