A study has suggested that women who frequently drink are up to 30% more at risk of developing cancer.

As reported in the Medical Observer, the study found that high frequency drinking increased the risk of cancer in women, but the increased risk in men was linked to quantity, rather than frequency.

The study took data from over 320,000 men and women in the US. The study revealed that women doubled their risk of contracting either colorectal or pancreatic cancer if they frequently consumed alcohol (more than twice a week). The figures for breast cancer saw a 44% risk rise.

“GPs don’t have to feel they are being moralistic to patients when talking about cutting down their alcohol consumption; it’s clearly now evidence based,” Professor Currie, director of addiction medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne said. He was also involved with developing the 2009 NHMRC guidelines.

Those guidelines suggested that everyone should stick to no more than 2 drinks a day, regardless of gender.

“It’s very striking that [the study figures] are exactly around the same cut-off point as the NHMRC guidelines,” he said.
The ABC’s The World Today spoke to both Kathy Chapman and Professor Jon Currie at the time the NHMRC guidelines were released.

Kathy Chapman, who was from the Cancer Council of New South Wales said, “The current alcohol guidelines that we’ve got from NHMRC are actually very high. At the moment they recommend four standard drinks a day for men, and two standard drinks a day for women.”

“This is really too high when you’re thinking about things like cancer risk, so the Cancer Council actually recommends that people should limit or avoid their alcohol and for men we recommend no more than two standard drinks a day and for women no more than one standard drink a day.”

At the time Professor Jon Currie was the chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) alcohol committee and he said ‘You have to balance all of the risks, and what we’re saying to people is that if you want no risk, then you wouldn’t drink at all. You have an increasing risk the more you drink, so one, two, three, four drinks, your risk starts to increase dramatically.”

“Two was the level we set for a risk of one in a hundred. That is, a one in a hundred chance of dying if you drink two drinks regularly over your lifetime, and that was the level we thought was reasonable for people to work along.”

Recently, the widely accepted idea that moderate alcohol consumption protects from heart disease was debunked when researchers found that the apparent benefits were due to faulty analysis of scientific data.  This makes the evidence associating alcohol with cancer become even more compelling, since it is now increasingly acknowledged that, as far as mental and physical health is concerned, there simply is no significant upside to regular alcohol consumption.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Am J Epidemiol 2011; online 30 Sept. ABC: The World Today. Medical Observer