Tipplers beware: Alcohol leads to cancer of the mouth, throat, and food pipe. Prestigious international medical journal Oral Oncology has said it in its latest edition for the first time.
The research has now become an important tool for Indian oncologists and experts who played a major role in bringing tobacco control in India. They are now gearing up to form a comprehensive alcohol control law and include it in government public health campaigns.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, oral cancer surgeon at the Tata Memorial cancer hospital in Parel, said: “Lancet and WHO had in the past reported about the overall side-effects of alcohol consumptiom.
This is the first time that we are talking about alcohol and cancer. The prevalence may seem low compared to western countries but the prevalence of heavy drinking among men is quite high here.”
The study links alcohol consumption to cancers in the upper aerodigestive tract (UADT). This includes cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx and esophagus. “Cancer of the UADT is most common and it often leads to death. Even the WHO and Lancet reports talk about it,” Chaturvedi said. He has been a major crusader in getting tobacco banned in the state.
While several studies have been done to establish a link between alcohol and cancer, the recent study was done to quantify the association between alcohol consumption and UADT cancer mortality.
“The alcohol industry has a strong lobby, which has been rejecting earlier studies because of the small sample size. In this study, a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies published up to June 30, 2013 was considered,” Chaturvedi said.
The study concluded that moderate to heavy drinkers were at a higher risk. It said public health recommendation on UADT cancer prevention and control should consider limiting the intake of alcoholic beverages.
Acording to the Lancet and WHO reports, there are about 2 billion drinkers worldwide and 76.3 million suffer from nearly 60 types of alcohol-related diseases and injury. Alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths yearly.
Dr PC Gupta, noted tobacco and health researcher (director, Healis–Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, Mumbai), said: “It is unfortunate that alcohol is not recognised as a carcinogenic substance. We talk about other aspects related to alcohol like the social problem but never talk about it being a prime reason behind cancer. We need to have a strong public health campaign to spread awareness.”
Reacting to the study, government health officials, however, said they were doing enough. “Our awareness campaigns focus on the bad effects of alcohol and drugs. In future we will emphasise more on how alcohol can lead to cancer,” RD Shinde, secretary of the state social justice department, said.
Kick the drink or you may very well kick the bucket
It is unfortunate that alcohol is not recognised as a carcinogenic substance, Dr PC Gupta, noted tobacco and health researcher said. “We talk about other aspects related to alcohol like the social problem but never talk about it being a prime reason behind cancer.”