The Millstone Times June 2022


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Alcohol Tied to 750,000 Cancer Cases Worldwide in 2020 Approximately 4% of cancers diagnosed worldwide in 2020 can be attributed to alcohol consumption, according to a WHO report. Nearly 750,000 cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide in 2020, or 4%, can be attributed to alcohol con sumption, according to a new study from the World Health Organization (WHO). While heavy drinking accounted for the most cases, light and moderate drinking accounted for more than 100,000 of those cases, the study found. Researchers have explored trends over earlier time periods in previous studies and found similar associations. But patterns of alcohol consumption—who’s drinking what and where—shift over time. While alcohol consumption is declining in some areas of the world, such as parts of Europe, it’s on the rise in other areas, including China, India, and many sub-Saharan African nations. Eastern Asia and central and eastern Europe had the highest numbers of alcohol-related cancers in proportion to their populations, while northern Africa and western Asia had the lowest. Although awareness that drinking alcohol can cause cancer doesn’t necessarily lead people to change their behavior immediately, “knowledge is always better than no knowledge,” said Christian Abnet, Ph.D., M.P.H., of NCI. “And it’s helpful to do these studies so countries can look at their own patterns of alcohol use and decide whether they want to make some changes” in policy. How Alcohol Boosts Cancer Risk Drinking alcohol is strongly associated with an increased risk of certain head and neck cancers and cancers of the esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and, in wom en, breast cancer. But why? The processes that the body uses to break down alcohol produces a compound called acetaldehyde, a toxin that several organizations have classified as a probable cause of cancer in people. The breakdown of alcohol can also produce reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals. These molecules can damage DNA, and the gene changes that result can lead to a cell turning cancerous. Alcohol can also have more subtle cancer-promoting effects, including impairing the body’s ability to metabolize and absorb a variety of nutrients it needs to prevent cancer. It can also increase blood levels of estrogen, a sex hormone linked to breast cancer, and make the carcinogens found in tobacco smoke easier for the body to absorb. The methods the WHO team used differ from those used in previous studies. For example, instead of including all types of liver cancer, the study focused on hepa tocellular carcinoma, the type of liver cancer that’s linked to alcohol. When the researchers analyzed moderate drinking further, they found that 41,300 of those cases could be attributed to light drinking, or consumption of 10 grams or less per day. Binge drinking—consuming five or more drinks within a few hours for men or four for women—is also likely more dangerous than any other type of drinking. But studies have only begun to look at the associations between binge drinking and cancer. Credit: The National Cancer

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