Drinking guides may need update for cancer risk

Sensible alcohol drinking guidelines aren't strong enough for cancer prevention, a new review suggests.

Sensible drinking guidelines for alcohol aren't strong enough for cancer prevention, a new review suggests.

Guidelines in some countries focus on short-term effects of alcohol, such as social and psychological issues and hospital admissions, without considering evidence for long-term harm, researchers said in Monday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. 
Drinking guidelines in some countries focus on the short-term effects of alcohol, such as social and psychological issues, rather than cancer risk, French researchers say. (NIPA/AP)

The World Health Organization's International Agency of Research on Cancer concluded that alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans and are related to malignant tumours of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver, based on a review of evidence.

"It can be concluded that there is no level of alcohol consumption for which cancer risk is null," Dr. Paule Latino-Martel of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and co-authors said.

"Thus, for cancer prevention, the consumption of alcoholic beverages should not be recommended."

The WHO has never issued official recommendations on alcohol consumption levels, the researchers noted.

The authors called for revised national guidelines that are based on complete and up-to-date scientific evidence, independent of any cultural or economic considerations.

Canadian limits under review 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health guidelines for "low-risk" consumption were set in 1997 at nine drinks per week for women and 14 per week for men. One drink contains 13.6 grams of alcohol — or the amount of alcohol in a 341 ml bottle of regular strength beer.

There is no Canadian guideline for "no-risk" consumption, and the ones from 1997 do not apply to certain groups, such as people with a family history of cancer, the researchers noted.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, in partnership with Health Canada, provincial and territorial medical officers and health, is expected to release Canada's first national drinking guidelines this year, according to the journal article.

Internationally, more information is needed on the impact of drinking guidelines on consumption of alcohol and to see whether people are aware of them and understand what a standard drink is and how to follow the guidelines, the authors said.