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Alcohol use may increase risk of cancer, injury: study

Toronto: Alcohol consumption may be associated with an increased risk of cancer and injury, a large new study across 12 countries, including India, has claimed.

The researchers looked at associations between alcohol consumption and clinical outcomes in a prospective cohort of countries at different economic levels in five continents.

The data came from 12 countries participating in a prospective cohort study of individuals aged 35-70 years.

The high-income countries (HICs) were Sweden and Canada; upper-middle-income countries (UMICs) were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland, South Africa, and Turkey; lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) were China and Colombia; and LICs were India and Zimbabwe.

The study, published in The Lancet journal. Included 114,970 adults, of whom 12,904 (11 per cent) were from HICs, 24,408 (21 per cent) were from UMICs, 48,845 (43 per cent) were from LMICs, and 28,813 (25 per cent) were from LICs.

The median follow-up was 4.3 years and current drinking was reported by 36,030 (31 per cent) individuals.

Although current drinking was associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of heart attack, there was no reduction in risk of mortality or stroke.

Current drinking was associated with a 51 per cent increased risk of alcohol-related cancers – of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, colorectum, liver, breast, ovary, and head and neck – and a 29 per cent increased risk of injury in current drinkers.

For a combination of all reported outcomes, there was no overall benefit from current alcohol use.

High alcohol intake and heavy episodic drinking were both associated with significant increases in risk of overall mortality, researchers found.

They also identified differences between countries of different income levels in risk for a combination of all clinical outcomes analysed in the study (ie, mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attack, cancer, injury, and admission to hospital).

For higher-income countries (HICs/UMICs combined), current drinking was associated with a 16 per cent reduced risk of this combined outcome, while for lower-income countries (LMICs/LICs combined) current drinking was associated with a 38 per cent increased risk.

“Our data support the call to increase global awareness of the importance of harmful use of alcohol and the need to further identify and target the modifiable determinants of harmful alcohol use,” said lead author Andrew Smyth of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), McMaster University in Canada.

“Because alcohol consumption is increasing in many countries, especially in LICs/LMICs, the importance of alcohol as a risk factor for disease might be underestimated,” said co-author Salim Yusuf, Director of PHRI and President of World Heart Federation.