You can’t have missed the fanfare over the new study showing an increased cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. As usual the statistics are presented in such a way as to scare the living bejesus out of even moderate drinkers. The statement “research has shown a link between alcohol consumption and cancers of the oesophagus, liver, bowel and female breast.” is not one I would dispute. However lets not forget that correlation does not equal causation, as we are all to eager to point out when dealing with quackery.
The three cancers linked to alcohol consumption in men are mouth/throat oesophagus, liver and bowel. So lets look at these in perspective.
Bowel. This is the commonest of the three with an incidence of about 45 per 100,000, or roughly one in two thousand. According to this article “In Great Britain male bowel cancer incidence rates rose slowly by an average of 1% each year between 1979 and 1999, since when there has been a slight decrease. Over the same period the female rates have changed very little” What increase there has been has been attributed to screening and improved diagnosis. These figures hardly speak of an increasing epidemic.
Liver. This is a much less common cancer than bowel with an incidence of about 4 per 100,000, although this has increased significantly over the last few years. However the majority of new cases present in the over 70s. Lets face it you have to go somehow.
Mouth/throat/oesophagus. this is the least common with an incidence of 2 per 100,000. Although there has been an increase in the incidence lately this has been attributed to human papilloma virus, transmitted during oral sex. This is a cancer where the correlation/causation factor is most dubious. Is it oral sex, booze, or both? Is there a correlation between drinking and oral sex? Are you more likely to indulge in muff diving while pissed? I don’t suppose that the researchers have asked themselves these questions.