A beer a day may raise risk of several cancers: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Men who drink beer or liquor on a regular basis may face a heightened risk of several different types of cancer, according to a Canadian study.

Visitors toast each other on a sunny day during Oktoberfest in Munich, September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal surveyed nearly 3,600 Canadian men aged 35 to 70 and found those who averaged at least a drink per day had higher risks of a number of cancers than men who drank occasionally or not at all.

These included cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate.

When the researchers looked at individual types of alcohol, though, only beer and “spirits” -- and not wine -- were linked to elevated cancer risks.

In general, the odds increased in tandem with the men’s lifetime alcohol intake, according to findings published in the Cancer Prevention and Detection. With several cancers, men who drank at least once per day tended to have higher risks than those who drank on a regular, but less-than-daily, basis.

When it came to esophageal cancer, for instance, men who drank one to six times per week had an 83 percent higher risk than teetotalers and less-frequent drinkers, while daily drinkers had a three-fold higher risk.

In addition, when the researchers looked only at daily drinkers, the risks generally increased with the number of years the men had been drinking daily.

“Our results show that the heaviest consumers over the lifetime had the biggest increases in the risks of multiple sites of cancer,” researcher Dr. Andrea Benedetti told Reuters Health.

Many studies have suggested that moderate drinking -- usually defined as no more than a drink or two per day -- can be a healthy habit, particularly when it comes to heart disease risk.

But the current study suggested that even such moderate drinking levels are linked to higher risks of certain cancers, at least when the alcohol of choice is beer or liquor.

The question of whether moderate drinkers should cut down, however, cannot be answered by a single study, according to Benedetti.

“In terms of balancing this risk (of cancer) with risks of cardiovascular disease, people should talk with their doctor,” she said.

Reporting by Amy Norton of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith