Doctors are sounding the alarm over research showing a link between alcohol consumption and cancer. More than 700,000 new cancer cases were linked to alcohol consumption in 2020 – a time when many Americans reported drinking more.
The research, published in the July 13 edition of Lancet Oncology, found that more than 4% of all new cancer cases in 2020 were due to alcohol consumption. While most alcohol-related cancers involved people who drank more than two drinks a day, more than 100,000 cases worldwide involved people who drank less than that on average, according to the study.
“Alcohol is an irritant. It irritates the lining of our mouth, our throat, our stomach. As our body tries to heal, it sometimes heals in abnormal ways which can lead to the very beginnings of cancer,” said Dr David. Odell, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine.
Three-quarters of alcohol-related cancers were diagnosed in men. Most of these cases were cancers of the liver and esophagus. Breast cancer was most common among women.
“For many people who used alcohol to somehow cope, once the pandemic hit, their alcohol consumption increased dramatically,” said Sarah Church, a psychologist who runs a drug treatment program in New York.
She said those seeking help included people who didn’t drink heavily before the pandemic.
There is about a 10-year lag between drinking alcohol and being diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer, so doctors say the impact of the pandemic is unclear.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Dr. David Odell’s specialty. He is a thoracic surgeon.