Alcohol, family history ups colon cancer risk

Updated: Jan 31, 2012, 14:32 PM IST

Washington: High levels of alcohol consumption can increase risk of colon cancer in people with a positive family history of such cancer, researchers have warned.

A study based on more than 87,000 women and 47,000 men in the Nurses`` Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, looks at whether there is a link between colon cancer and alcohol, and if so at what level of consumption, and the importance of a family history of the disease.

A total of 1,801 cases of colon cancer were diagnosed during follow-up from 1980 onwards.

The results revealed that subjects with a family history, whose average alcohol intake was 30 or more grams per day (about 2 ½ typical drinks by US standards or 4 UK units), had an increase in their risk of colon cancer.

Those at greatest risk also ate the most red meat, smoked the most, and had the lowest intake of folate (suggesting they ate fewer green vegetables and cereals.

Hence, these people have the unhealthiest lifestyles in general of the populations studied. There was not a significant association between alcohol consumption and colon cancer among subjects without a positive family history in this study.

Forum reviewers were concerned that the pattern of drinking (regularly or binge drinking) was not assessed, and that there was not a consistent increase in risk of cancer with greater alcohol intake found.

Further, adequate folate intake was found to lower risk, with the highest risk for subjects with a positive family history of colon cancer, low levels of folate, and in the highest category of alcohol consumption, indicating the importance of other lifestyle facts such as a healthy diet.

The present study provides some support for an association between higher levels of alcohol intake and the risk of colon cancer among subjects with a positive family history of such cancer.