Alcohol causes lung cancer

(dge) The German Nutrition Society e. V. (DGE) emphasizes that men should not consume more than 20 grams of alcohol and women not more than 10 grams of alcohol per day. 10 grams of alcohol are in 1 "drink", for example 1 glass of beer, wine or schnapps. If this amount were not exceeded, numerous cases of cancer would be preventable. In men, 90 percent and in women 50 percent of alcohol-related cancers and deaths from cancer could be prevented. That is around 720,000 cases of illness and 430,000 deaths worldwide. So for cancer prevention it is best not to drink alcohol at all.

This is the conclusion drawn by the authors of a recent review.1 They summarized the results of meta-analyzes on the cancers for which alcohol is considered a risk factor. Compared to not drinking or drinking occasionally, heavy drinking is associated with a particularly high risk of mouth, throat and esophageal cancer: 4 or more drinks a day increase the risk by 400 percent. The risk of throat cancer is around 150 percent, that for colon and breast cancer by 50 percent, and for pancreatic cancer by 20 percent. Even with a low alcohol consumption of 1 drink per day, the risk of certain cancers is increased, namely by 20 to 30 percent for mouth, throat and esophageal cancer. The risk of liver cancer is also increased.

There is a dose-effect relationship in all cancer sites examined: the more people drink, the higher the risk. For example, the risk of breast cancer increases by 7 percent for every 10 grams of alcohol per day.

background information

Maximum tolerable alcohol intake

According to reference values ​​for nutrient intake2 20 grams of alcohol per day for healthy men and 10 grams per day for healthy women are currently regarded as tolerable intake levels. The information is in no way to be understood as a recommendation to drink alcohol daily. Women should not drink alcohol during pregnancy or breastfeeding in order not to expose their child to unnecessary health risks.3 Children, adolescents, people at risk of addiction, people with liver damage and people who take medicines should also not drink alcohol.

Risks from alcohol consumption

Whether beer, wine or spirits - according to the World Health Organization, alcohol consumption is one of the 10 most important health risks worldwide. Even if moderate alcohol consumption is ascribed a risk-reducing effect on cardiovascular diseases, alcohol cannot be recommended for prevention, as overall the negative effects on health predominate.4,5 Regular alcohol consumption impairs muscle performance, damages nerves and organs such as the liver and pancreas, and promotes the development of obesity as well as mental disorders and cancer.6 With regard to the potential for addiction and the connection between alcohol consumption and certain cancer diseases, no regular amount of alcohol can be described as harmless to health.2

Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

The mechanisms by which alcohol influences cancer development are still being investigated. Various breakdown products of alcohol seem to have a carcinogenic effect in the body. This includes the reactive acetaldehyde, which can combine with building blocks of the genetic material (DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid).6 In the upper digestive tract, alcohol could also damage the protective mucous membranes.

Alcohol consumption is estimated to be responsible for 10 percent of cancer cases in men and 3 percent of cancer cases in women. This resulted in a data analysis of almost 364,000 men and women from Germany and 7 other European countries. The majority of alcohol-related cancer cases can be attributed to consumption that is above the amount currently considered to be tolerable. When evaluating the data, various confounders were taken into account, including dietary factors and smoking. Drinking alcohol is often associated with smoking. Smoking is the most important confounder in the relationship between alcohol and cancer risk.5

The authors of the current review state that alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the head and neck area regardless of smoking. If you smoke and drink, the two risk factors mutually reinforce their cancer-promoting effects.1

The importance of meta-analyzes

In your review1 the authors summarized the results of meta-analyzes. A meta-analysis is a statistical process with which the results of individual epidemiological studies are combined into an overall statement. Numerous case-control and cohort studies are available as individual epidemiological studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer.

Alcohol Consumption in Germany

In Germany, the average alcohol intake for both men and women is in the range of the tolerable amount. However, in about every fourth man and every sixth woman, it is above the amount of alcohol that DGE considers tolerable.7 According to BZgA8 In many adolescents up to the age of 16 and 17, consumer behavior has developed that can be classified as hazardous to health even in adults. After all, around every fifth male and every 10th female young adult among 18 to 25-year-olds consumes amounts of alcohol that are hazardous to health.

This highlights the need for further information campaigns and preventive measures, especially among young people. Avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption is a central concern of public health promotion.

  • Author: Dipl. Oec. troph. Angela Bechthold, Science Unit
  • Editorial staff: Dr. Eva Leschik-Bonnet, Science Unit
  • Scientific Advice: Presidium of the DGE (Prof. Dr. Helmut Heseker, Prof. Dr. Heiner Boeing)

1 Pelucchi C, Tramacere I, Boffeta P et al. Alcohol consumption and cancer risk. Nutrition and Cancer 2011; 63: 983-90
2 DGE et al. (Ed.). Reference values ​​for nutrient intake. Neuer Umschau Buchverlag, Neustadt a. d. Weinstrasse, 1st edition, 3rd fully reviewed and corrected reprint (2008)
3 Brönstrup A, Bode C, Heseker H et al. Effects of moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Nutrition Review 2009; 56: 10-5
4 World Health Organization (WHO). Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. Geneva (2009)
5 Schütze M, Boeing H, Pischon T et al. Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study. BMJ 2011; 342: d1584
6 Cancer Information Service (KID) of the German Cancer Research Center. Alcohol: Beer, wine, and liquor are risk factors for cancer.
7 MRI (Max Rubner Institute). National Consumption Study II. Results Report, Part 2. Karlsruhe (2008a)
8 BZgA. The alcohol consumption of adolescents and young adults in Germany 2010. Brief report on the results of a current representative survey and trends. Cologne (2011)