New analysis: Booze increases bowel cancer risk

Tuesday 15 July, 2014

A new study has found that people who regularly drink alcohol have a 17 per cent increased risk of developing the type of polyp that can lead to bowel cancer, compared with those who don't drink.

A study from China and USA, published in the June issue of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, examined data from 25 studies from around the world. In regular drinkers, there was a 17 per cent increased risk of developing colorectal adenomatous polyps (adenomas), compared with non-drinkers or occasional alcohol drinkers. The findings applied to both men and women.

Cancer Council Victoria's Professor James St John said the study found a dose-response effect between the level of drinking and risk for adenoma.

"In other words, the more alcohol people regularly consume, the higher their risk of adenomas."

Alcohol consumption Increased risk of adenoma
Light: no more than one standard drink per day 2%
Moderate: between 2-4 standard drinks per day 16%
Heavy: four or more standard drinks per day 60%
Overall regular alcohol consumption  17%

"This research adds to the existing evidence that alcohol is an independent risk factor for bowel cancer. But more research is needed to see how the different types of alcoholic beverage impact on the risk for bowel cancer."

Adenomas are a precursor for bowel cancer, which is Australia's second biggest cancer killer. Each year 4000 Australians die from the disease, with more than 14,000 new diagnoses.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said people could help prevent bowel cancer by cutting down on drinking.

"By reducing your alcohol intake so it's within the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines of no more than two standard drinks a day or by choosing not to consume alcohol you can reduce your risks significantly," he said.

"You can also help decrease your bowel cancer risk by quitting smoking, being active, enjoying a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and maintaining a healthy body weight. If you're over 50, you should have regular screening for bowel cancer. A faecal occult blood test is a simple, at home test that looks for the early signs of bowel cancer. We know that 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be cured if found early so screening every two years is a must, for everyone aged 50 and over."

Find out if you're at increased risk with the Bowel Cancer Risk Calculator at www.cancer

Updated: 15 Jul, 2014