Mumbai: A recent paper from the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, published in a reputed Indian medical journal, has concluded that alcohol consumption dramatically increases the risk of cancer.
The report points at alcohol consumption being one of the leading risk factors for multiple health issues, especially non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases (HIV, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis). Alcohol consumption is estimated to be the third-most important modifiable risk factor for death and disability worldwide. With 1.4 lakh deaths annually, alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis makes up the biggest burden posed by alcohol use. Almost one lakh deaths that occur on Indian roads each year are indirectly related to alcohol abuse.
According to Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Deputy Director at Center for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Hospital, until now, there was conflicting evidence of alcohol being a direct causative agent for cancers in Indian medical literature. For conclusive answers, they performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of 29 eligible studies, involving 2,86,986 subjects. “The findings suggest that alcohol users are 2.15 times more at risk of cancer compared to non-users. This can be attributed to its solvent property, which assists the carcinogen in permeating the cells lining the upper aero-digestive tract. The pooled analysis of all prospective studies demonstrated a 152 per cent higher risk of cancer among alcohol users, while the retrospective studies found an increased risk of 232 per cent,” he said.
Dr Hitesh Singhavi, Research Fellow and the first author of the paper, said once the alcohol is metabolised in the body, the byproduct acetaldehyde is responsible for the carcinogenic effect, which also reduces immunity, leading to the initiatiation of carcinogenesis at various sites. Malabsorption, especially of folate, in the presence of alcohol leads to initiating colon cancer. It may also manipulate hormonal levels in women to influence breast cancer.
“The pattern of alcohol consumption is diverse in India, making it a unique subset to analyse. It has also been found that Indians drink a higher concentration of alcohol by weight, especially on an empty stomach, thus making them more vulnerable to alcohol-related toxicities,” he said.
Dr Rajesh Dixit, Director at Center for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Hospital, said they have analysed the relationship, specifically between alcohol users and oral cavity cancer, which is the one of the most common life-threatening malignancies in India. “We found that alcohol raises the risk of oral cancer by 200%. This result concluded that alcohol independently increases the risk of oral cavity cancers,” said Dr Dixit.
To conclude, there are no safe levels of alcohol consumption and its consumption increases the overall risk of cancer among Indians, particularly doubling the incidence of oral cavity cancer.