For women, drinking one bottle of wine per week increases the absolute lifetime risk of cancer to the same extent as smoking ten cigarettes a week, mostly due to an increased risk of breast cancer caused by drinking, according to the study. For men, drinking a bottle of wine a week increases the absolute lifetime risk of cancer equivalent to smoking five cigarettes.
This is due to the risk of cancer in parts of the body such as the bowel, liver and oesophagus, according researchers from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and University of Southampton. The team estimated if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women each drank one bottle of wine per week across their lifetime, around ten men and 14 women would develop cancer as a result.
And if 1,000 men and 1,000 women drank three bottles of wine per week throughout their lives, around 19 men and 36 women could develop cancer as a result. The team said three bottles a week is equivalent to smoking roughly eight cigarettes per week for men and 23 cigarettes per week for women.
Writing in the journal BMC Public Health, the team said alcohol is generally perceived by the public as being far less harmful than smoking, despite being directly linked to several different types of cancer.
In terms of absolute risk, the researchers said one bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime cancer risk for non-smokers of 1 per cent (men) and 1.4 per cent (women).
They concluded: “One bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime risk of alcohol-related cancers in women, driven by breast cancer, equivalent to the increased absolute cancer risk associated with ten cigarettes per week.”
The risks for men were equivalent to five cigarettes per week, they added.
Dr Theresa Hydes, who worked on the study, said: “It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast. Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public. We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
She added: “We must be absolutely clear this study is not saying drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. Our finds relate to lifetime risk across the population.
“At an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary.”