Alcohol Causes Cancer

Wine corks (Photo by David Bradley)It’s quite illuminating that the following study has not yet reached the wider media. Without wishing to be too cynical, I do wonder whether that’s because the journal in which the work is published does not use a highly aggressive press office and marketing machine like so many other medical journals, which never seem to be out of the news. The results in this paper are just as important and the implications perhaps even more far reaching than many other results that attract instantaneous (under embargo) media attention. Anyway, take a look and judge for yourself, oh and let me know afterwards if you think the headline for this post is way off mark.

Alcohol blamed for oral cancer risk – A large-scale statistical analysis of mouth and throat cancer incidence over a long period of time has looked at possible correlations between exposure to industrial chemicals, dust and alcoholic beverages in a wide variety of individuals in different occupations across Finland. The perhaps surprising conclusion drawn is that alcohol consumption rather than industrial chemicals or dusts is the critical factor associated with this form of cancer. Get the full story in this week’s edition of my SpectroscopyNOW column here.

I suppose it’s a little ironic that in the same edition of Spec Now, I’m also writing about how to make beer taste fresher and last longer on the shelf. NMR spectroscopy, and a chromatography sniff test have yielded results that could help brewers improve the flavour and shelf-life of beer thanks to work by scientists in Venezuela. The team has identified alpha-dicarbonyls as important compounds that reduce beer’s flavour and point to a new approach to brewing beer that stays fresher, longer. Take a sip here…

Meanwhile, another subject of mixed messages regarding health benefits is that perennial favourite chocolate. To maintain the seductive and lustrous brown gloss of chocolate, so enticing to chocoholics the world over, food technologists must find a way to prevent fat bloom from forming on the surface and turning the surface an unappealing grey. Now, scientists from Canada and Sweden have found new clues to understanding the microstructure of chocolate and what happens when it turns grey with age. More…

Finally, some straight chemistry with absolutely no hint of biomedicine, health, or pharmaceutical implications (yet). A novel structure studied using X-ray crystallography hints at the possibility of a carbon atom that, at first site seems to be a little different from the conventional textbook view. Could the oldest rule of organic chemistry have been broken at last, or is low atomic separation being equated too keenly with the presence of a bond, or could there be something else afoot, as Steve Bachrach suggests? Read on…

22 thoughts on “Alcohol Causes Cancer

  1. @Sam It was a headline…not a PhD thesis. It doesn’t claim in its three words that alcohol causes all cancer, or how it occurs, or anything, it’s just the headline.

  2. Alcohol causes cancer is a fault arguments since not 100% of cancers are alcohol caused. However, the statement would be more acurate to say inarguably and definetly that, prolonged alcohol consumption causes cancer. Alcohol WILL raise your likelihood of develpping cancer due to the different chemical elements and carcinogenes present in alcohol drinks and that aren’t identified or isolated to the fact that sicentitis and chemists don’t know even exist. For at least the fact that the chemical of alcohol will cause some diturbances at the cellular level if not the genetic level of a cell a result of causes displasia and neoplasia.

  3. This is the first I heard that alcohol causes oral cancer. Massive studies have shown that alcohol causes liver cancer, etc. I think that it is important for everyone to know the effects of alcohol as cancer related to alcohol is one of the leading causes of death.

  4. @CancerResearch Not sure I follow your statement…who said anything about providing arguments that alcohol causes cancer, that was merely a provocative headline hinging on the post.

  5. @Anne – indeed. But, while ethanol is not, per se, positive in the Ames tests for carcinogenicity and teratogenicity it is involved in the activation of various other compounds that are.

  6. but having all this said. Alcohol in itself and alone CANNOT cause cancer without having other variables

  7. For others, such as liver and breast cancers, alcohol is thought to play an indirect role by enhancing mechanisms that may cause cancer;
    Cancer kills an estimated 526,000 Americans yearly, second only to heart disease :(

  8. Thanks for the comment Sheila. I will post your story as a standalone case study post on Sciencebase next week and link to it from this thread when I do.If others wish to contact you directly of course that’s their prerogative.

  9. Yes, I have a true story to share, of how we allowed Alcohol to severely damange/destroy our health.
    AND very easily done too !!!!!!!!
    Let me know, if you’d like to receive it……..about 1 1/2 pgs………
    Many thanks.
    /sjg

  10. Guys, you’re right. It was a shoddy experiment in tabloidism, which has generated more useful comments and insights (such as your own) than previous more tempered headlines ever have ;-)

  11. I don’t think the headline is necessarily warranted, David. The thing all these studies leave out is the relative magnitude of the effect. Yeah, they say there’s a correlation between the occupations that tend to drink more with the occupations that tend to get oral cancers more, but even if their correlation is .99, how many more are we talking about? Considering the extensive amount of assumptions they’re making, if the increase in relative risk is smaller than the variation between the two groups, I can’t really say it amounts to much, and I’m pretty certain that if they had found a 5-fold increase or something like that, their abstract would have been shouting that out.

    The media isn’t reporting it because they don’t get statistics, at all. They’ll report “Alcohol causes cancer” but they won’t report, “There’s a statistically-significant correlation between age-matched occupational estimates of alcohol exposure and ….blah blah blah”.

  12. Alcohol consumption is likely to cause oral cancer through complex mechanisms.
    * Alcohol is an analgesic, it rises pain threshold, the person doesnot feel minor irritations in the mouth like sharp tooth or mucous folds which may come between teeth while munching. Ignored chronic irritations are one of the causes of cancer of mouth.
    *Alcohol is an antiseptic. In any form it kills millions of cells especially nerve cells. Because we have trillons of cells the loss is not noticed. Body tries to regenerate the replace the lost cells. Somewhare in the cascade if the control mechanism if impaired the cells overgrow and cause the CANCER (afterall cancer is uncontrolled growth).
    * Alcohol is an immunosuppresent. It supresses the white blood cells which removes the abnormal /cancer cells as and when they are formed at their own cost.(this happens in the body constantly normally).
    *Alcohol is a good solvent. It enhances the diffuse of digested food products into the blood via the barrier called mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract which selectively disallows some of the harmful(?) products’
    * Alcohol is toxic to liver where the toxins entering the blood are detoxified.
    * Finally stess plays an important role in causing cancer.(destrssing the mind and body boosts immunity.
    *However aetiology of cancer is not this simple.

  13. @Pat I think you’re right. But, I don’t think I was advising anyone to give up alcohol, I certainly don’t intend to, although I have cut down this week in preparation for an imminent dinner dance, party, event

  14. I think this is an example of manipulation with statistical
    data. The effects of beer (5% alcohol), wine (14% alcohol)
    my favorite tzuika (52% alcohol), absynthe (up to 70%
    alcohol) cannot be mixed together- they are different due
    to the substrates. Plus there are other effects superseeding
    the effect of alcohol. Inclusiv social effects, class dependent.

    Ask for example Winston Churchill and please study the so-
    called “Sue Ellen Effect” (J.R.’s alcoholic wife in the Dallas soap
    opera): the resistence to alcohol is proportional to intelligence.

    I have the same opinion about Statistics as Martin Luther had
    about Reason. It is very often misused.

  15. Oddly absent from the abstract of the article was the effect of smoking, which is well-known as a primary cause of oral cancers. In the conclusion, and throughout the article, the authors do cite smoking as a cofactor. My interpretation, especially in light of the wording of the conclusion

    “In conclusion, the strongest risk factors for cancer of mouth
    and pharynx, i.e., alcohol and smoking, seem to explain much of
    the occupational variation of cancer of mouth and pharynx.”

    is that alcohol by itself, in moderation, is not a risk factor. However, for smokers, alcohol does increase the risk. In addition, alcohol abuse also has been widely reported as increasing the risk of oral cancers.

    I think the message from this article is actually don’t drink to excess, don’t smoke at all, and above all don’t drink and smoke together. I don’t think it is saying that you have to give up your glass of wine with dinner!

  16. The connection between alcohol and cancer has been evident to some health professionals for some time. Thirty years ago a nurse at Walter Reed Hospital commented to me that she had never seen a case of oral cancer or cancer of the larynx where the patient did not either drink or use tobacco products. Her particular observation was that the combined effects were multiplicative (as opposed to additive.)

  17. I agree John, it’s not a surprise. I guess what caught my eye in the original paper I unearthed via PubMed while trawling for Spectroscopynow news was that they essentially separated out the low risk from industrial solvents and such and demonstrated that anyone from any walk of life can face an oral cancer risk from drinking alcohol. Like you say, many drinkers breathe in the fumes from their favourite tipple and slosh it around their mouths, some, in the case of wine drinkers, even “strain” it through their teeth. Me? Down in one!

  18. I am not surprised that alcohol might cause different kinds of oral cancer. Alcohol drinkers savor their favorite before swallowing, usually. Given that alcohol is a very good solvent and fuel, and it can leach chemicals from plastic containers, it should not be an “awakening”. Besides, we know alcohol causes other medical problems and it interferes with the actions of many drugs we use.

    However, we still drink, smoke, chew and do other things that are anything but beneficial to our respective well being. At least, for the moment in time, we are free to do so, as so we should be.

    Good article, and good article references. I will confess that I understood not too much about all of the beer preservation chemical processes, but then, I was never a chemist even though I regularly read all of this and try to understand it.

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