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Light Alcohol Use Linked to Cancer Risk in Women

Alcohol associated with higher risks of mouth, esophagus, liver, breast and other cancers

THURSDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Even low levels of alcohol consumption may raise women's risks of certain cancers, according to research published in the Mar. 4 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Naomi E. Allen, of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed data from more than 1.2 million women -- mean age 55 years at recruitment -- participating in the Million Women Study. Women reported their weekly average alcohol consumption and were followed for an average of 7.2 years.

Increasing alcohol use was associated with higher risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, rectum, liver and breast, as well as total cancer, the investigators found. However, it was associated with a lower risk of thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and renal cell carcinoma. Risks associated with alcohol on upper aerodigestive cancers were found only in current smokers, the researchers report. In the United Kingdom, alcohol accounts for 7,000 breast, liver, upper aerodigestive, and rectal cancers annually, the authors estimate.

"Among women, the major cause of death by far during the middle years is cancer," write the authors of an accompanying editorial. "It might be reasonable to suspect that many women in the lay public who are asking physicians about any possible safe effects of alcohol are middle aged; for this large group, the only reasonable recommendation we can make is that there is no clear evidence that alcohol has medical benefits."

The Million Women Study is supported by Cancer Research UK.

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