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expert reaction to research on alcohol and cancer

A study published in the journal Addiction has reported that drinking alcohol is linked to the development of seven forms of cancer.


Prof. Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology at Imperial College London, said:

“This is a useful summary of alcohol and cancer, but adds nothing new. The topic of alcohol and cancer has been reviewed extensively by IARC (2012). The UK Committee on Carcinogenicity reviewed the topic extensively and systematically in 2015. This helped inform the Department of Health and Public Health England evidence-based review of alcohol and alcohol guidelines which led to an update on government recommendations published in 2016.

“The science is now well established. The main difficulty is communicating effectively with the public. (See CRUK comments at”

* Prof. Boobis’ comment was amended at his own request to correct the dates of two of the evidence reviews. (10:10 22/07/2016)


Prof. Dorothy Bennett, Director of the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St. George’s, University of London, said:

“This is a review paper, so there are no new data; but the author has studied and put together the existing literature on this topic with a special emphasis on whether conclusions can be drawn about alcohol “causing” cancer as opposed to just being statistically associated with it. So it is an update and summary of what was already published.

“She concludes that yes, for 7 types of cancer there is strong evidence that drinking alcohol does cause cancer. She bases this on the patterns seen – risk increasing with the amount drunk, higher risk for organs where the alcohol most comes into contact with the cells, like the mouth, pharynx (throat) and oesophagus (gullet), and a plausible mechanism involving DNA damage (which is definitely a cause of cancer). Alcohol enters cells very easily, and is then converted into acetaldehyde which can damage DNA and is a known carcinogen.

“It’s not clear that there are any new implications, since moderation in alcohol consumption is already official advice. However it could be said to strengthen support for the existing message by a careful review and update of the evidence on both links and mechanisms.”


Dr Penny Buykx, from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This new research summarises the well-established evidence linking alcohol consumption to an increased cancer risk. Our recent study with Cancer Research UK found that when shown a list of different cancers, only one out of five people know breast cancer can be caused by drinking, compared to four out of five people who know alcohol can cause liver cancer. Increasing public awareness where it is lacking can help people to make informed choices about their drinking.”


‘Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer’ by Jennie Connor published in Addiction on Friday 22 July. 


Declared interests

None declared

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