In 2018, about 4.2 million people developed cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) within the WHO European Region, of which 4.3% were attributable to alcohol. Thus, a total of about 180 000 cases of cancer (almost 70 000 cases in women and more than 110 000 cases in men) were caused by alcohol.* In the same year, alcohol drinking contributed to almost 92 000 cancer deaths.
There was a wide variation in alcohol-attributable cancer rates across the WHO European Region, ranging from less than two per 100 000 people in Azerbaijan, Israel, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan to almost 20 per 100 000 in Hungary, Romania and the Republic of Moldova (Fig. 1). It is likely that these differences are due in part to interactions with other risk factors (such as tobacco).
The effect of alcohol as a risk factor, in terms of developing cancer or dying from it, varies across different cancer types. In the WHO European Region, in 2018, the proportion of fatal cancer outcomes due to drinking was highest for cancers of the oral cavity, oesophagus and oropharynx, while cancers of the colorectum and breast caused by alcohol resulted in proportionally fewer deaths (Fig. 2).
Although the proportion of breast and colorectal cancer deaths related to alcohol is relatively small, they constituted the most common sites of alcohol-attributable cancer within the WHO European Region in 2018, with about 45 500 cases and 12 100 deaths due to breast cancer in women and about 59 200 cases and 28 200 deaths due to colorectal cancer in women and men (Fig. 3). Cancers at other sites such as the larynx and oropharynx occurred less frequently but had relatively higher proportions of fatal outcomes due to drinking.