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Drinking a bottle of wine a week carries the same cancer risk as smoking 5-10 cigarettes, study finds

The researchers said even moderate drinking increases the risk of developing cancer in your lifetime.

Image: Shutterstock/Smeilov Sergey

DRINKING A BOTTLE of wine a week increases the risk of developing cancer over the course of your life as much as smoking 10 cigarettes does – for women – and five cigarettes does – for men.

That’s according to a new study from UK researchers writing in BMC Public Health which asks the question “how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine?”.

“In contrast to our knowledge about the number of cancers attributed to smoking, the number of cancers attributed to alcohol is poorly understood by the public,” the study noted.

And the researchers said that even moderate drinking increases the risk of cancer, for men and women.

They do stress that the purpose of their study isn’t to say that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking.

According to recent figures released by the Health Research Board (HRB), 7,350 cases of alcohol dependency were treated in Ireland in 2017.

Between 2011 and 2017, 55,675 cases were treated for problem alcohol use.

The HSE’s low risk weekly guidelines for adults are up to 11 standard drinks for women, and up to 17 for men.

One standard drink is a pub measure of spirits, a small glass of wine, a half pint of normal beer or an alcopop. A bottle of wine at 12.5% contains about seven standard drinks.

The researchers estimated that if 1,000 men and 1,000 women who don’t smoke drank  a bottle of a wine a week, around 10 extra men and 14 extra women could develop cancer over the course of their lives.

That’s the equivalent of the increased cancer risk a man would get by smoking five cigarettes a week, or a woman would get by smoking ten. 

This increases to 19 extra men and 36 extra women developing cancer if they drank three bottles of wine a week. 

“These findings highlight moderate levels of drinking as an important public health issue for women and identify a need to promote national awareness, supported by the recent change in national drinking guidelines,” the researchers noted.

However, they also flagged limitations to their study. This includes that depending on the person, the effect of exposure to alcohol and/or cigarettes may vary. The study also does not take into account other smoking or alcohol-related illnesses, such as respiratory, cardiovascular or liver disease.

“Critically, our findings are not meant to detract from the substantive cancer risks associated with smoking which remains the single largest preventable cause of cancer worldwide, and for which even very low levels of exposure are associated with an increased risk of cancer,” they added.

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Sean Murray

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