Researchers found that 9.6% of cancer in men in Western Europe and 3% of cancer in women is caused by alcohol consumption. In the UK, this means alcohol causes at least 13,000 cases of cancer each year.
Lead author Madlen Schütze of the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbruecke, Germany, said many of the cases could have been avoided if people avoided binge drinking and reduced consumption to below health guideline limits.
The research, which used data from the large European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) study, assessed cancer risk in eight countries in Western Europe.
The EPIC study followed 363,988 men and women, mostly aged between 35 and 70 years, during the 1990s.
Participants completed a detailed lifestyle questionnaire, including alcohol consumption.
The study calculated that in 2008, current and former alcohol consumption by men was responsible for about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, colorectum, and liver in Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain.
Over half of these cases – 33,000 – were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.
Alcohol consumption by women in the eight countries caused about 21,500 cases of upper digestive tract, liver, colorectum, and breast cancer, of which over 80% – 17,400 – was due to consumption of more than one drink of beer, wine, or spirits per day.
Authors argued that a substantial proportion (40-98%) of the alcohol-attributable cancers occurred in individuals who drank more than the recommended guidelines on upper limits of two standard drinks a day in men and one standard drink a day in women.
'The results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about ten years ago. People are drinking even more now than then and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future.'