Alcohol is a direct cause of seven types of cancer and probably more, researchers have found.
Even a moderate level of drinking poses serious risks, and claims of health benefits – such as red wine being good for the heart – are considered increasingly irrelevant.
The concerning news comes in a review published in the journal Addiction. Report author Jennie Connor, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, wrote: “There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites, and probably others.
“Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause.”
She added alcohol is estimated to have caused about half a million deaths from cancer in 2012 alone – 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide.
The highest risks are from heavy drinking, but even people who drink at low levels are at risk, the study found.
Her review linked alcohol to cancer of the mouth and throat, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, bowel and breast.
She said that based on current evidence, there is no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer though the risks are reduced for some cancers when people stop drinking.
She added that the supposed health benefits of drinking were “seen increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers”.
In January, the UK’s chief medical officers said no level of regular drinking is without risks to health.
Publishing a raft of recommendations, they said men should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, down from the previous 21 units, bringing them into line with the recommendation for women.
Susannah Brown, science programme manager for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), said of the new work: “Many people believe that alcohol consumption is only linked to liver cancer, but this review confirms the findings of our Continuous Update Project that alcohol is strongly linked to an increased risk of a number of different cancers, including two of the most common – bowel and breast cancer.
She added: “For cancer prevention, we have long recommended that people should not drink alcohol at all, but we understand that this can be easier said than done.”