Researchers have confirmed the link between alcohol and the risk of head and neck cancers and has shown that people who stop drinking altogether can significantly reduce their risk of developing cancer. The findings are important for those who have a family history of cancer, researchers said.
Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto analyzed studies published over a 40-year period about the risks of developing cancer of the esophagus, larynx and oral cavity. The researchers found a consistent relationship between drinking alcohol and developing head and neck cancers, confirming several other studies.
However, the study also found that those who quit drinking alcohol dramatically reduced their risk of getting cancer and the risks declines the longer they person remains abstinent.
Significantly Reduced Risk of Cancer
The study findings included:
- The risk of esophageal cancer nearly doubled in the first two years following alcohol cessation, but the risk then decreased rapidly and significantly after longer periods of abstention.
- Risk of head and neck cancer only reduced significantly after 10 years of cessation.
- After more than 20 years of alcohol cessation, the risks for both cancers were similar to those seen in people who never drank alcohol.
Risks Can Take Decades to Subside
The study authors said the reason esophageal cancer increased after alcohol cessation may be due to people stopping only after they are already experiencing symptoms of the disease, a phenomenon known as "sick quitter."
"Alcohol cessation has very similar effects on risk for head and neck cancers as smoking cessation has on lung cancer," said lead author Dr. Jurgen Rehm. "It takes about two decades before the risk is back to the risk of those who were never drinkers or never smokers."
Source: Rehm J, et al. "Alcohol drinking cessation and its effect on esophageal and head and neck cancers: A pooled analysis." International Journal of Cancer May 2007