It has been estimated that around one in 10 cases of bowel cancer can be linked to alcohol consumption1 and the risk increases the more alcohol you drink2.
One international group of researchers has estimated that the bowel cancer risk increases by 21% if you have two or three alcoholic drinks a day (1.5 to 6 units of alcohol) and by more than 50% if you have four or more drinks a day (6 units or more). Even having one alcoholic drink a day (1 unit) increases the risk by 7%.2
Many people understand that alcohol damages the liver, but the strong link between alcohol and bowel cancer is less well known. Now, experts are calling for a more concerted effort to conduct further research and raise awareness of the link between alcohol and bowel cancer in order to reduce the incidence of one of Europe's most common cancers. "Alcohol is one of the most serious and avoidable risk factors for bowel cancer and we need to take urgent steps and use different approaches to raising awareness of this issue and to encouraging people to reduce their alcohol intake," explains Professor Patrizia Burra, from United European Gastroenterology (UEG). "Of major concern is that younger people are now drinking more heavily and often in dangerous or hazardous ways and we expect this to have a significant impact on future bowel cancer incidence rates."
The association between alcohol intake and bowel cancer appears to be stronger in men, with one fourth of bowel cancer cases in men attributable to an alcohol intake of more than 23 g/day. The link is also stronger amongst Asian populations and in those who combine drinking alcohol with either smoking, being over-weight or high red meat intake.3
Alcohol consumption is a major public health concern and Europe has the highest levels of drinkers in the world. The EU currently has the highest alcohol consumption, on average consuming 12.51 litres of pure alcohol per person, more than double the worldwide average.4
"We now have a European Code Against Cancer that highlights 12 ways that individuals can reduce their cancer risk," says Prof. Burra. "This emphasizes that not drinking alcohol is better for cancer prevention which is a great start, but successful cancer prevention requires a combination of individual action and support for individuals to make the lifestyle changes needed to stay healthy. If we don't change our approach to alcohol consumption now, we face serious health and economic repercussions for future generations. We must make people think twice about drinking any amount of alcohol but being realistic, the basic message has to be that less is better."