'Big call' to say alcohol causes cancer - industry

  • 25/07/2016
'Big call' to say alcohol causes cancer - industry

Spirits New Zealand is questioning an Otago University study which found evidence alcohol consumption can directly cause cancer in seven places in the body.

Professor Jennie Connor's looked at previous research, finding a causal association between cancer and drinking alcohol - stronger than the long-held view there's only a possible correlation.

It found alcohol can cause cancer in the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and female breast.

The review also found evidence that moderate drinking gives people some protection against cardiovascular disease is "not strong".

But Spirits NZ chief executive Robert Brewer says Prof Connor's conclusion is possibly too simplistic.

"If you drink heavily over a long period of time, there is no doubt that causes problems and there's no doubt that type of drinking has been linked to, or associated with, a whole lot of health problems - including cancers," Mr Brewer says.

"What the 'opinion piece' is saying is that alcohol causes cancer, and there is no evidence to support the fact alcohol does cause cancer - yes, at heavy drinking levels it is associated with some cancers."

He says it's a "big call" to say something causes something else because "you've got to take into account a whole range of factors".

"These things tend to be more complicated than just saying one thing causes that."

The industry's message to people is to drink moderately - defined by the Ministry of Health as no more than three standard drinks a day - which Mr Brewer maintains has some health benefits.

Prof Connor's review added the causal link is helped in part by evidence that a reduction in consumption also lowers risk of cancer.

The evidence used in the study comes after reviews undertaken in the past decade by the World Cancer Research Fund, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Global Burden of Disease Alcohol Group.

The review cites evidence alcohol caused around 500,000 deaths from cancer in 2012, or 5.8 percent of cancer deaths worldwide.

"The highest risks are associated with the heaviest drinking, but a considerable burden is experienced by drinkers with low to moderate consumption," the review says.

In June, another study from Otago University suggested even moderate alcohol consumption puts people at a heightened risk of cancer.