Current alcohol consumption guidelines will not prevent cancer

An analysis published online by CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) charges that current guidelines for alcohol consumption are inadequate for cancer prevention and that new international guidelines are needed.

“On the whole, alcohol is considered an avoidable risk factor for cancer incidence and, more generally, for the global burden of disease,” wrote Dr. Paule Latino-Martel, of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (Paris), and coauthors from France's National Institute for Prevention and Health Education (Saint-Denis) and the French National Cancer Institute (Boulogne Billancourt). “Although drinking guidelines used in the context of a brief intervention have proven effective to help people who have problems due to their drinking habits to reduce their alcohol consumption, they are inadequate to prevent all types of risks, including cancer risk.”

Therefore, contend the researchers, the application of alcohol-consumption guidelines to the general population should be revisited.

According to information provided in a statement from CMAJ, increasing evidence links alcohol consumption to cancer. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer has stated, based on evidence, that alcohol is carcinogenic in both animals and humans. The 2007 joint report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research warned of the link between alcohol and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon-rectum, and breast.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, issued by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that women who consume alcohol have no more than one drink per day, and men, no more than two per day ( The guidelines define a drink as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol) distilled spirits. One drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.

Referring to Canadian guidelines for low-risk consumption set in 1997—nine drinks per week for women and 14 for men—Latino-Martel and colleagues concluded, “Considering our current knowledge of the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer risk, national health authorities should be aware of the possible legal consequences of promoting drinking guidelines that allow consumers to believe that drinking at low or moderate levels is without risk.”

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