Alcohol and Cancer risk

Australians love their booze. So do the Germans. I had my first encounter with alcohol when my mother gave me a glass of Champagne to drink on New Year’s Eve, when I was 11 or 12 (something I now consider to be damn close to child abuse, btw). I’ve been drinking beer since I was 15, but much has changed since then. Alcohol in 2011 comes in a variety of shapes and fancy-colored flavours, and young people are encouraged by alcohol advertising at sporting events, on TV, and through societal pressures, to drink, and to drink fast and furious. It’s nothing like what we used to do 30 years ago, in particular the alcohol-fuelled violence, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse that seems to be connected to alcohol consumption these days. Thing is, drinking lots of alcohol over a long period of time is bad for you. Like, really bad.

The Cancer Council of Australia has published a position statement on alcohol and cancer, in which they reiterate that alcohol is a common cause of cancer, estimated to be responsible for about 5% of all neoplasms. The more you drink, the more likely you are to develop a cancer, and the combination of alcohol and tobacco increases your risk even more.

There is convincing evidence that alcohol use increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel (in men) and breast (in women), and probable evidence that it increases the risk of bowel cancer (in women) and liver cancer. (Convincing and probable are the highest levels of evidence as determined by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research and denote that the relationship is causal or probably causal in nature).

But chronic alcohol use also has other detrimental health effects, for example weight gain (read : fat gain), a known contributor to the risk for developing “cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, bowel, endometrium, kidney and breast (in post-menopausal women)”. And that’s not even talking about the alcohol-fuelled depression, apathy, sick days at work, and domestic and street violence, in addition to all other kinds of abuse.

Cancer Council recommends that to reduce their risk of cancer, people limit their consumption of alcohol, or better still avoid alcohol altogether. For individuals who choose to drink alcohol, Cancer Council recommends that they drink only within the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for alcohol consumption.

I read that some Wine companies are planning to hit back at this statement. This is apparently their argument :

Wine writer Philip White says premium wine companies will have to launch a campaign to respond.

He argues there is a vast difference in the health effects from cheap alcohol use compared with drinking wine produced by premium wineries.

“The small producers of premium wine that don’t use petrochemical sprays and have clean product which is much healthier than industrialised stuff have to come out and be separate and say ‘Hey we’re not part of that thing’,” he said.

I’d be a bit careful with that line of argument, to be honest. From that position paper :

Ethanol, the chemical present in all alcoholic beverages and
which induces the altered physical and mental responses experienced with alcohol use, has also
been listed as a Group 1 carcinogen.

It’s the Ethanol in alcoholic beverages that causes cancers, not how well you scrub your bottles.

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