The next time you feel the lure of the “last call” at the bar, you might want to keep this in mind: alcohol consumption causes over 20,000 cancer-related deaths in America ever year, making it a significant preventable risk factor for the disease.
As CBS News reports, the World Health Organization already classifies alcohol as the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden. But its link with cancer is “not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians,” the study’s author, Dr. Timothy Naimi of the Boston University School of Medicine, explained in a press release.
The report’s authors hope to combat that ignorance with their findings, which conclude that alcohol causes as many as 3.7 percent of all American cancer-related deaths annually — and drinking alcohol increases risk factors for “cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast:”
Researchers determined that alcohol-related cancer death took away an average of 18 potential years from a person’s life. Average consumption for the group was 1.5 drinks a day or less, and those drinkers made up 30 percent of the reported deaths. Larger amounts of alcohol led to higher risks of dying from cancer. Forty-eight to 60 percent of the deaths were attributed to people who drank three or more drinks a day.
“When it comes to alcohol consumption and cancers, clearly excessive drinking is the riskiest type of drinking,” Naimi said to CBS station WBZ in Boston. “But when it comes to cancer, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.”
In addition to figuring out how many cancer deaths were related to alcohol, researchers also determined that breast cancer was the most common type of drinking-related deaths in women. This form of cancer alone made up 15 percent of the alcohol-related deaths, amounting to 6,000 women annually.
For men, mouth, throat and esophageal cancers were the most common alcohol-associated deaths, making up about 6,000 deaths annually.
All told, the combined costs of lost productivity from criminal justice proceedings, missed work, and medical care related to drinking alcohol adds up to $223 billion in health expenditures every year. That number might actually be even bigger, considering that it likely does not incorporate the full breadth of cancer-related costs caused by alcohol.
The findings also underscore the disproportionate toll that alcohol advertising targeting America’s youth may have on the black population. In general, alcohol advertising targets young, black Americans, a group that also tends to be more susceptible to both getting cancer and dying from cancer than other racial demographics.