Alcohol and Cancer
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases in the country. It is estimated that 526,000 Americans are killed by cancer each year. That number places cancer second on the list of death causes, after heart disease. Lung cancer, bowel cancer, and breast cancer are the most common forms of the disease. Studies show that approximately 2-4% of all cancer cases are linked to alcohol consumption, both directly and indirectly. Heavy drinking, in particular, is thought to increase the risk of cancer.
When cells mutate and grow out of control, they can form masses and/or tumors that destroy the normal tissue of the body. Initiation, Promotion, and Progression are the three stages of cancer.
The initiation stage of cancer occurs when a cell's DNA is changed, triggering a divide that causes the cell to reproduce indefinitely. Initial mutations of the cell genes or carcinogens, cancer-causing agents, are responsible for the change, which is irreversible. The mutations can also take place in genes that promote cell division, oncogenes, or genes that suppress cell division, otherwise called, suppressor genes. For this reason, cancer is associated with the over-promotion or under-suppression of cell reproduction itself.
Cancer promotion provides stimulation for the initiated cell to divide. The form of stimulus could be carcinogenic or natural, such as when new cells are needed in tissue damage.
As cancer progresses, the tumors spread to other areas of the body and form secondary types of cancer.
The Effect of Alcohol on Cancer
Research indicates that there exists a distinct association between alcohol and cancers that kill over 125,000 people annually. These cancers include esophageal, pharynx, and oral. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately "75% of esophageal cancers in the United States are attributable to chronic, excessive alcohol consumption." The NIAAA continues to explain that, "nearly 50% of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx are associated with heavy drinking." If a person drinks and smokes, the risk of those cancers significantly increases.
There is little doubt that heavy drinkers are much more likely to develop the upper digestive tract cancers than those who abstain. Furthermore, cirrhosis of the liver is the perceived cause of liver cancer, but alcohol is a common cause of cirrhosis - up to 36% of the liver cancer cases in the country have been traced to excessive alcohol consumption. In general, the United States has a relatively low occurrence of liver cancer as about 2 out of every 100,000 people are thought to suffer from it.
Because alcohol leads to a rise in estrogen levels in women, it might have an indirect role in breast cancer. A smaller, but consistent connection was made for alcohol consumption and colon or colorectal cancer that is dependent on the dose amount. Drinking only two alcoholic beverages a day cancels out any of the healthy diet choices made to prevent colon cancer.
The links between alcohol and stomach, pancreas, and lung cancers are confounded by inconclusive data. It appears that alcohol hasn't been proven to be a carcinogen by itself, but it can enhance the carcinogenic effects of certain chemicals. Also, alcohol has a negative effect on nutrition, and it removes essential vitamins and nutrients needed to protect the body against cancer. A person that eats correctly and drinks alcohol regularly is simply trying to "break even." When it comes to something as important as staying healthy, these kinds of compromises don't work.