A bottle of wine increases a woman’s cancer risk by as much as smoking 10 cigarettes a week, according to new research. For men, one bottle has the equivalent risk of smoking five cigarettes each week.
The research, conducted by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and University of Southampton and published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that in non-smoking men the increase in the absolute lifetime risk of cancer from drinking one bottle of wine per week was 1.0%.
For non-smoking women this was approximately 50% higher with an increase in absolute cancer risk of 1.4%
The team estimated that if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women each drank one bottle of wine per week across their lifetime, around 10 men and 14 women would develop cancer as a result.
And if 1,000 men and 1,000 women drank three bottles of wine per week throughout their lives, around 19 men and 36 women would develop cancer as a result.
Commenting on the findings Dr Theresa Hydes, one of the study authors said: “It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast.
“Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public.”
Dr Hydes believes that converting the risks of alcohol into “cigarette equivalents” could help people make more informed decisions about their drinking.
“We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
Men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, less than a bottle and a half of wine, after evidence concluded that regular drinking increased the risk of cancer.
But before we all head to the kitchen and empty our wine racks, researchers are keen to point out that the study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking.
“Our finds relate to lifetime risk across the population,” Dr Hydes adds.
“Smoking kills up to two thirds of its users, and cancer is just one of the many serious health consequences. This study purely addresses cancer risk in isolation.”
The authors also point out that the study does not take into account other smoking or alcohol-related outcomes such as respiratory, cardiovascular or liver disease in which case the conclusions would likely be quite different.
Jane Green, professor of epidemiology and co-director of the cancer epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford, told Sky: “It is important to view these results in context.
“For both men and women in the UK, the lifetime risk of cancer is around 50%.
“The authors estimate that lifetime risk is around 1% higher for men and women who drink a bottle of wine a week, or who smoke five to 10 cigarettes a week, than for those who neither smoke nor drink.”
The research follows a further study released last year which found that people who enjoy the odd alcoholic drink are less likely to suffer a premature death than those who don’t drink at all.
Quaffing up to three glasses of wine or beer a week could lower the risk of dying from any cause, and in particular cancer, according to a study by researchers at Queens University, Belfast.
But scientists also warned that the risk of a deadly illness rises slightly among more regular drinkers.
The findings also found that with each additional drink per week, the risk of cancer and death from any cause increased.
Very heavy drinkers (three or more drinks each day) had the highest risk of dying early or developing cancer at 21 per cent.
This group were followed by heavy drinkers (two to three drinks each day), who were 10 per cent more likely to die young or get cancer.