Smokers will tell you that nothing goes better with a glass of wine or a beer than a cigarette... and while medicine has long known that smoking is a lung cancer risk, the companion behavior (drinking to excess) appears to be a rather serious, though unrecognized, risk.
A new study has found a relationship between heavy drinking and an uptick in the risk of lung cancer, the biggest cancer killer of both men and women the world over.
Even today, more Americans die as a result of lung cancer compared to any other cancer. In the most recent year statistics are available, 2007; just about 203,000 U.S. adults received a lung cancer diagnosis, around 159,000 died from the disease. The only good news is that since the 1964 Surgeon General report confirming the dangers of smoking, millions have quit.
We now understand that smoking doesn't just impact the person with the cigarette - family members, children, friends, coworkers and others who breathe in those chemicals are also at higher risk for dangerous disease.
In one of the studies, the diet and lifestyle of over 126,000 subjects was examined between the years 1978 and 1985, with rates of lung cancer tracked through to the year 2008.
The Kaiser Permanente team discovered that having over 3 alcoholic drinks a day raised the risk of lung cancer, with a slightly increased association for beer compared to either wine or liquor. When compared to those who did not drink, subjects who had 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day had a 30% greater chance of being diagnosed with cancer of the lung. There was a whopping 70% increase in risk for beer.
Interesting that this study also saw that a higher BMI (body mass index) was associated with a lower chance of malignancies in the lungs. This isn't to suggest that you start packing on weight... the effects of all those extra pounds might not show themselves for years. But they will appear. Your doctor knows that for sure.
But, researchers admit it is hard to see how much of an impact drinking has on lung cancer when it so often is accompanied by smoking, or spending lots of time in smoke-filled environments.
The other study discovered that for non-smoking females, regular black tea intake might reduce risk of lung cancer by 31%. Higher volumes of fruit consumed were also linked with lower cancer risk for men and women.
Experts warn that all these findings need to be reproduced by additional research before being considered as solid recommendations, so there's no need to eliminate alcohol from your life. The research here demonstrates associations that might be intriguing, but are far from fact. As with everything, moderation is key. In the meantime, if you're worried about your lung cancer risk, you can directly impact your own risk of this dangerous disease by not smoking, and limiting (or eliminating) your exposure to passive smoke.
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