Alcohol Bigger Cancer Danger Than Originally Thought, Study Says

A fresh analysis of cancer rates published in Australia on Monday suggests alcohol is to blame for many more cases than previously thought—with 5.6 percent likely to be triggered by regular drinking even at moderate levels.

More than 2,600 breast cancers—or more than one in five of total cases—nearly 1,300 cancers of the mouth and nearly 600 cancers of the esophagus a year are now thought to be due to Australian patients' drinking habits.

The upward revisions appear in a new position statement on alcohol by Sydney-based non-government organization Cancer Council Australia, which warned there was no safe level of alcohol intake, and that the estimates provided another reason for people to stay within official healthy drinking guidelines.

Those recommendations, updated by the Australian government's National Health and Medical Research Council in 2007, suggested people limit their drinking to two standard drinks a day— equivalent to two small bottles of medium-strength beer—in order to limit their lifetime cancer risk to one in 100.

Monday's position statement suggests 22 percent of breast cancer cases are caused by alcohol intake, between almost twice and seven times previous estimates, which put the level at between three percent and 12 percent.

More than half (51 percent) of esophageal cancers are now linked to alcohol as well as 41 percent of mouth cancers and 7 percent of bowel cancers.

The upward revisions and new Cancer Council policy are outlined in a paper in Monday's Medical Journal of Australia.

Council chief executive Professor Ian Olver said a Cancer Council survey showed nine percent of people knew alcohol had any link to cancer.

"That's why we feel it's important we get the information out there, so that people can factor it into their lifestyle."