Blog | Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's your poison?

While there has been evidence galore that alcohol in moderation may be good for your heart (see this, this and this for a few examples), a new study has raised a serious counterpoint. The study from the Feb. 24 online Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who drank even small amounts of alcohol were at higher risk of cancer than those who drank nothing.

To wit, for every extra drink per day, the increase in incidence per 1000 women was 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancer of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the esophagus, larynx and liver. That adds up to 15 cancers per 1000 women, the journal said. Put another way, the authors estimated that about 13% of cancers of the breast, aerodigestive tract, liver, and rectum could be attributed to alcohol, an editorial noted.

The editorial goes on to say: "From a standpoint of cancer risk, the message of this report could not be clearer. There is no level of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe."

Has it come to this: Hesitating at the wine or beer aisle, as you contemplate whether you'd rather have cancer or heart disease? That's being melodramatic, of course, but what should a PCP tell a patient who asks whether she should be drinking a glass of wine a day "for her heart"?