We know it sounds bad, but according to an analysis on a decade of cancer research by Professor Jennie Connor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, alcohol consumption even in moderate amounts can lead directly to seven types of cancer. According to her summary, those who drink (like, at all) are at higher risk for oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and female breast cancers. Yikes.
Yes, that sounds pretty darn scary, but hold on just a second before you pour your entire wine collection down the drain (actually, please don’t do that at all). The media has largely been reporting on Connor’s article as a ‘study’ and thus consider her results to be absolute. One clever publication though, did their research and has pointed out that the ‘study’ is not quite what it seems to be.
Yes, there are undeniable and scientifically proven links between drinking and cancer. Yes, it has been proven that those who drink more are more prone to getting cancer. However, proving causation in science is tricky and the link may not be as definite as it’s been made out to be. In other words: it’s not time for mass panic just yet.
Let’s outline some of the report’s nuances. First of all, as Ars Technica points out, Connor’s piece is opinion and not really a study. That being said, it should not be discredited. Her paper draws on a decade of cancer research from numerous sources, however the conclusions drawn are her own. She is entirely qualified to make these observations and draw conclusions, but that doesn’t prove them. Her conclusion is based on strong evidence that there is a direct link between drinking and these seven locations of cancer.
Second, Connor admits that further research will be needed to solidify her statements (because alcohol companies will likely try to disprove her). She also points out that there are a few outlier studies that aren’t as consistent with her observations.
Finally, though Connor is clear that those who are light to moderate drinkers are still at risk for getting alcohol-related cancer, all evidence shows that the more you drink, the more at-risk you are. So the amount of drinking you do is a factor.
Um, so, what should you believe? Good question. Basically, there is a proven link between drinking and cancer that the public is generally unaware of. It might not be as simple as ‘drink alcohol, get cancer’, but we should all probably check our drinking habits for a number of health-related reasons. Weigh risk and reward like you would with anything else.
The bigger lesson here? Remember to take study reports with a grain of salt. Yes, there is truth to both the reports and the studies on which they’re based, but the story might not be as cut and dry as it seems.