Cancer is among the leading causes of death across the globe. Causes of cancer may be environmental agents, viral or genetic factors. Paolo Boffetta additionally mentions that alcohol use is among the most important preventable risk factors for cancer, along with extra body weight and tobacco use. As per certain reports, alcohol use contributes to about 6% of all cancer cases and % of all cancer deaths in the United States. Paolo is an Italian epidemiologist who is currently based in New York, U.S. He is doing research on cancer, which is largely focused on the understanding of the role of alcohol and smoking in cancer development.
Cancer risk factors can be broadly be grouped into biological or internal factors, environmental exposure, occupational risk factors and lifestyle-related factors. Dr. Paolo Boffetta says that the lifestyle-related factors that may lead to cancer basically include tobacco, alcohol and certain food-related issues, such as nitrites and poly aromatic hydrocarbons generated by barbecuing food.
Alcohol use has been linked with cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, as well as breast. Alcohol might even increase the risk of cancer of the stomach. For each of these cancers, the risk level faced by a person increases with the increase in their alcohol consumption. However, in the case of certain cancers, breast cancer in particular; consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk.
According to Dr. Paolo Boffetta, researchers have over the years hypothesized multiple ways by which alcohol may increase the risk of cancer. Here are some of the ways:
- Metabolizing or breaking down of ethanol in alcoholic drinks can result in acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen. Acetaldehyde might damage both DNA and proteins in the body.
- Alcohol consumption may lead to the generation of chemically reactive molecules that contain oxygen, which damages the proteins, DNA and lipids in the body through the process of oxidation.
- Alcohol may impair the ability of the body to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that can be associated with cancer risk. This includes vitamin A, nutrients in the vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E.
- The blood levels of estrogen may increase due to alcohol consumption. Estrogen basically is a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer
- Alcoholic beverages might even contain a variety of carcinogenic contaminants that are introduced during fermentation and production. Nitrosamines, asbestos fibers, phenols, and hydrocarbons are some of them.
Dr. Paolo Boffetta mentions that drinking and smoking together especially raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus more than drinking or smoking alone. This can be due to the fact that alcohol can help various harmful chemicals present in tobacco get inside the cells that line the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Alcohol can also limit the way cells of the body can repair damage caused to their DNA by the chemicals in tobacco.