Cancer: a bottle of wine increases the risk

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The sad reality of cancer is that anyone can get it. This does not mean that the risk is not modifiable. A variety of lifestyle factors have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Drinking a bottle of wine was involved in a way that causes some consternation.

According to a study conducted in the UK, drinking one bottle of wine a week can be equivalent to smoking five to ten cigarettes over the same period, in terms of cancer risk.

The research, published in the journal BMC Public Healthshould serve as a call to the general public to drink in moderation.

“Our estimate of a cigarette equivalent for alcohol provides a useful measure for communicating possible cancer risks that leverages successful historical messages about smoking,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Theresa Hydes, from the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement at the time.

“We hope that by using cigarettes as a comparator, we can communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”

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They estimated that, among non-smokers, drinking one bottle of wine per week is linked to a 1.0% increase in lifetime cancer risk in men; and a 1.4% increase in lifetime cancer risk for women.

In other words, if 1,000 men and 1,000 women each drank a bottle of wine a week, about 10 more men and 14 women would develop cancer at some point in their lives, the researchers said.

The higher risk in women is mainly due to the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.

This risk was comparable to smoking five cigarettes a week for men and 10 for women.

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The results are striking but not entirely surprising: if you drink alcohol, you are more likely to get cancer than if you don’t.

But drinking alcohol does not mean you will definitely get cancer.

Your exact risk will depend on many factors, including things you can’t change, such as your age and genetics.

Nevertheless, “even a small amount of alcohol can increase your risk, so the more you can reduce, the more you can reduce your risk,” warns Cancer Research UK.

According to the charity, alcohol can cause cancer in three main ways:

  • Cell damage. When we drink alcohol, our body converts it into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can damage our cells and can also prevent cells from repairing this damage
  • Hormonal changes. Alcohol can increase the levels of certain hormones such as estrogen and insulin. Hormones are chemical messengers and higher levels can cause cells to divide more often, increasing the risk of cancer cells developing
  • Changes in the cells of the mouth and throat. Alcohol can make cells in the mouth and throat more susceptible to absorbing harmful chemicals. This allows carcinogens (like those found in cigarette smoke) to more easily enter the cell and cause damage.

“Remember that it’s the alcohol itself that does the damage. It doesn’t matter if you drink beer, wine or spirits,” the charity notes.

“All types of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer.

According to the NHS, men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week.


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