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From Sip to Risk: Exploring Alcohol's Role in Cancer in Italy

24.03.2023 - For over three decades, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon has classified alcohol as a carcinogenic agent. Numerous studies have demonstrated a clear association between alcohol consumption and several types of cancer, including liver, esophageal, colorectal, breast, and head and neck cancers. In particular, cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx are most closely linked to alcohol use. The risk of developing cancer increases with the amount and duration of alcohol consumption.

In Italy, an estimated 65,000 cancer deaths each year are attributed to behavioral risk factors, which are considered modifiable. Among these, smoking is the most significant factor, accounting for at least 43,000 annual cancer deaths. Passive smoking has also been recognized as a contributor to cancer mortality, including an etiological role in female breast cancer.

Experts have calculated the number of cancer-related deaths that could be avoided each year in Italy if alcohol consumption were eliminated. Their findings reveal that:

  • Deaths caused by mouth and pharynx cancers would be reduced by about 70 percent in men and 50 percent in women;

  • Deaths caused by laryngeal and esophageal cancers would decrease by about 50 percent in men and 30 percent in women;

  • Deaths caused by liver and colorectal cancers would be reduced by about 30 percent in men and 15 percent in women.

By eliminating alcohol, a potential 17 percent of female breast cancer deaths and 27 percent of male breast cancer deaths could also be avoided. Although not widely known, breast cancer can affect males as well.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study has produced estimates of potentially preventable cancer mortality in Italy by addressing individual lifestyle habits. The study indicates that removing exposure to individual risk factors, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, overweight and obesity, and physical inactivity, could significantly reduce the number of cancer-related deaths in the country.

In conclusion, the evidence strongly supports the need for increased public awareness and targeted interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and other modifiable risk factors in Italy. By addressing these issues, a significant number of cancer-related deaths could potentially be avoided, improving overall public health.

Sources: "I Numeri del cancro in Italia – 2021 edition", edited by AIOM, Associazione italiana oncologi medici

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