A study has attributed over 740,000 cancer cases recorded globally in 2020 to alcohol consumption — with men accounting for more than three-quarters of those cases.


The study, which was published in The Lancet Oncology, also reiterated that there is “strong” evidence that alcohol consumption can cause various cancers including those of the breast, liver, colon, rectum, oropharynx, larynx and oesophagus.

Previous research has ruled that even a small amount of alcohol consumption can increase the risk but public awareness has remained low.

But in the fresh study published on Tuesday, UK oncologists revealed that an estimated 741,300 cancer cases in 2020 were caused by alcohol.


To arrive at the figure, the team said they used existing alcohol consumption estimates for 2010, based on figures including tax and sales data, as well as other data such as risk estimates for cancers known to be linked to alcohol.

They merged the figures with existing estimates of cancer cases expected for 2020, based on records from previous years (not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic), to estimate the number of cases probably caused by alcohol intake.

The results suggested that alcohol consumption was behind an estimated 568,700 cancer cases in men and 172,600 cases in women in 2020, with the majority of the cases involving cancers of the oesophagus, liver and breast.


Looking at the causes of each cancer type separately, the research team found that the proportion of cases found to have been caused by alcohol was highest for cancers of the oesophagus, pharynx, and lip and oral cavity.

Most alcohol-caused cancer cases were linked to heavy drinking but moderate or low drinking was also estimated to have caused cases. The data showed that 10g of alcohol daily caused between 35,400 and 145,800 cases globally.

The proportion of cancer cases estimated to have been caused by alcohol was lowest in north Africa and west Asia but highest in east Asia and central and eastern Europe. There were also variations between men and women.

In the UK, an estimated four per cent of cancer cases in 2020 (about 16,800) were linked to alcohol consumption.


On the findings, Harriet Rumgay of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France said alcohol caused a heavy burden of cancer globally, according to Guardian UK.

Rumgay, who is a co-author of the study, added that the development was shown even at lower drinking levels.

“Alcohol’s impact on cancer is often unknown or overlooked, so we need to increase public awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer, and policies to decrease overall alcohol consumption to prevent the burden of cancers and other diseases attributable to alcohol,” the expert said.

On his part, Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s CEO, said there is still a lot to do to prevent alcohol-related cancers.


The researchers also advocated cancer warnings on alcohol labels, higher taxes on alcohol, and a reduction in the marketing of drinks.

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