THURSDAY, Oct. 27, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- While smoking has long been linked to cancer, its frequent companion, drinking, may be as well, a new study suggests.
Three new studies presented at a medical meeting this week find a link between heavy boozing and a rise in risk for the number one cancer killer.
On the other hand, studies also suggest that heavier people are less likely to develop lung cancer than smaller folk, and black tea might help ward of the disease, as well.
The findings were to be presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, Oct. 22-26, in Honolulu.
More Americans die from lung cancer than any other form, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 203,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer, and nearly 159,000 died.
In one study presented at the meeting, Dr. Stanton Siu and colleagues at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., looked at the diets and lifestyles of more than 126,000 people first surveyed between 1978 and 1985. They then tracked their incidence of lung cancer through 2008.
The team found that having more than three alcoholic drinks per day upped lung cancer risk, with a slightly higher risk ascribed to beer consumption versus wine or liquor. Specifically, compared to teetotalers, people who had three or more drinks daily were 30 percent more likely to develop lung cancer, with a 70 percent rise in risk if the drink of preference was beer.
One expert stressed, however, that it's tough to tease out drinking from another, even more carcinogenic habit, smoking, since the two often go together.
"Smoking remains an overwhelming factor, but . . . heavy drinking, whether it's the alcohol itself, or that heavy drinking is a surrogate for hanging out in smoky bars and getting more smoke, I don't know," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, who was not involved in any of the studies.
In another intriguing finding from the study, a higher body mass index (BMI), which indicates overweight or obesity, was linked to a reduction in the odds for lung malignancies.
The finding may not mean that packing on extra pounds insulates one against lung cancer, however. Edelman noted that being overweight or obese is typically associated with poorer health, while "people who are sick weigh little," he said. So, the results may just mean that the heavier study participants haven't suffered the ill effects of their lifestyle -- yet.
In a separate study also slated for presentation at the meeting, researchers from the Czech Republic found that among non-smoking women, regular black tea consumption appeared to lower lung cancer risk by about 31 percent, and higher amounts of fruit in the diet was also linked to lowered lung cancer risk for both genders.
Edelman and Dr. Mark Rosen, chief of the division of pulmonary/critical care and sleep medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., cautioned that all of the study results need to be replicated before being taken seriously.
"They show some interesting associations, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily factual," Rosen said. "If you put a lot of data into a computer, you're going to find some things come out [linked] just by chance. Associations are interesting, but they all require further studies."
Experts also note that research presented at scientific meetings is considered preliminary and has not been peer-reviewed.
For more on alcohol and health, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.