Share this article on:

Alcohol Contributes to Cancer Mortality and Years Lost

Potera, Carol

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: May 2013 - Volume 113 - Issue 5 - p 17
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000430223.68703.ce
In the News

There are no safe consumption levels, according to a new study.



Alcohol is responsible for 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States, according to the first major analysis of the link between alcohol and cancer in 30 years, when the risk was deemed similar. Despite research suggesting that a glass of wine makes hearts healthier, alcohol causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents, according to the new study. Moreover, downing just 20 to 40 g of alcohol (one and a half to three alcoholic drinks) daily raises the risk of cancer, and there's really no safe amount when it comes to that risk.

Reporting in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers examined alcohol-consumption and death data from 2009. About 19,500 alcohol-related cancer deaths occurred. Cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus accounted for about 71% of alcohol-associated cancers in men, and 15% of breast cancer deaths in women were tied to alcohol consumption. Each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for 17 to 19 years of potential life lost. “This is an astounding statistic,” says Pamela J. Haylock, chief executive officer of the Association for Vascular Access and former president of the Oncology Nursing Society, who wasn't connected to the study.

Alcohol intake is an important and modifiable cancer risk factor that's overlooked in cancer prevention strategies, which are typically devoted to cancer screenings, smoking cessation, and weight reduction. Alcohol receives surprisingly little attention from public health and anticancer organizations. Stronger and more comprehensive efforts are needed to reduce the effects of alcohol on cancer risk. Nurses can contribute to cancer prevention, says Haylock, “by disseminating the information that there's no apparent threshold when it comes to alcohol consumption and cancer risk.”

Overall, alcohol contributes to 79,000 deaths and costs the United States $223.5 billion yearly, according to a second report, published in the January 24 New England Journal of Medicine. That report urges health care providers to use validated tools such as those from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to screen for risky drinking during routine and preventive care.

Nurses working in primary care, health fair settings, occupational health programs, student health services, and public health can perform alcohol screenings. “Just adding a couple of alcohol consumption queries,” says Haylock, “might open the discussion and bring increased awareness.” —Carol Potera

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.