Alcohol blamed for thousands of new cancer cases annually in Ontario

Alcohol consumption is linked to an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 new cases of cancer in Ontario a year, including oral malignancies, liver, colorectal and breast cancers, the province’s cancer agency says.

Cancer Care Ontario says drinking linked to liver, colorectal, breast and oral cancers

Alcohol consumption is linked to an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 new cases of cancer in Ontario a year, the province’s cancer agency says.

Cancer Care Ontario released a report Tuesday – titled "Cancer Risk Factors in Ontario: Alcohol" – which suggests a third of Canadians are aware of the link between drinking alcohol and cancer.

Drinking alcohol has been shown to cause oral cancers as well as esophageal, larynx, liver, colorectal and breast cancers, said Dr. Linda Rabeneck, vice-president of prevention and cancer control for Cancer Care Ontario.

The agency estimated that in 2010, alcohol accounted for two to four per cent of all new cancer cases in Ontario.

"These findings highlight a substantial opportunity for increasing public awareness of alcohol as a carcinogen and ultimately reducing alcohol consumption," the report’s authors concluded.

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recommend that if alcohol is consumed, the number of drinks should be limited to:

  • No more than two drinks per day for men.
  • One drink per day for women.

Earlier this month, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa unveiled plans for 10 LCBO liquor kiosks to open in grocery stores as part of a one-year pilot project.

 Cancer Care Ontario reiterated its recommendations to the provincial government to:

  •  Maintain and reinforce socially responsible pricing for alcohol, such as minimum pricing at or above consumer price index, and price disincentives for higher alcohol content beverages.
  •  Ensure effective controls on alcohol availability, such as no increase in outlet density, no further privatization, such as the LCBO kiosk plans for grocery stores.
  •   Strengthen controls on alcohol marketing and promotion.
  •   Increase access to alcohol counselling.

Cancer Care Ontario said a survey by Statistics Canada suggest the majority of adults drink alcohol. Just 18 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women said they hadn’t had a drink in the previous year.

The proportion of adults abstaining during the past 12 months was higher among adults living in urban areas compared to rural areas and decreased with increasing levels of education.

When alcohol interacts with tobacco, the risk of developing a form of esophageal cancer increases, according to a review  published Tuesday in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers alcohol a Class 1 carcinogen in humans — the same category as asbestos, smoking and ultraviolet radiation.

The main source of data for Cancer Care Ontario’s report was Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey, which is considered representative of 98 per cent of the population aged 12 years and older.