Alcoholism Kills

Alcoholism increases rates of general and cancer related deaths

(RxWiki News) As with so many areas of medicine and healthcare these days, we're getting mixed messages about consuming alcohol. A new study out of Italy comes down on the negative side of the controversy.

When compared to the general population, alcoholics are more likely to die from cancer and other diseases. Those are the findings of a recent study of alcoholic drinking in Tuscany, Italy.

"Drink responsibly, if at all."

dailyRx spoke with study co-author, Emanuele Scafato, M.D., director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research & Health Promotion on Alcohol and Alcohol-Related Problems at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità.

Dr. Scafato says the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had a recent alert regarding alcohol consumption. The agency finds alcohol to be "a main determinant in increasing risk of several cancers in humans such as oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, esophageal, liver cancer and breast cancer," Dr. Scafato said. 

To better understand the overall risks associated with alcohol addiction, Domenico Palli, head of the Nutritional and Molecular Epidemiology Unit at the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute (ISPO) in Florence, and colleagues compiled data on 2,272 alcoholics.

Participants, mostly males and predominately middle-aged, were being treated at the Alcohol Center of Florence between April 1985 through September 2001. Age, gender and regional mortality rates were used to estimate expected deaths.

The study found alcoholics were more likely than the general population to die from a number of health conditions, including: infections, diabetes, and diseases of the immune, nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems, according to Palli.

Alcohol as a "'dietary' carcinogen emerged quite clearly," Palli said, with the highest increased risks seen in oral, esophageal, rectal, pancreatic and female breast cancers.

"The study is one explicit example of the possible negative outcomes that can be experienced by people who are used to drinking over the limit of the liver capacity to metabolize alcohol," Dr. Scafato told dailyRx in an email.

He continued, "Alcohol-related risk can be prevented by lowering quantities and frequency. Even recognising the 'benefit' of really moderate social drinking," Dr. Scafato urges, "one glass should be consumed by people according to an informed and responsible choice."

He adds the World Health Organization (WHO) says that for many people, including women and the elderly, drinking even a little more than a glass of alcohol on a regular basis, increases risks of 14 cancers and 60 diseases.

Dr. Scafato says this study should foster awareness among those who are addicted to alcohol and the general population. He says the study is also important for healthcare providers, who need to be more vigilant in identifying problem drinking in their patients and offering help.

That's why Dr. Scafato asserts that when it comes to alcohol, "Less is always better."

This research is scheduled to be published in February 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, and results are currently available at Early View.

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Review Date: 
November 15, 2011