Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Monday, 30 July 2007 12:20 UK

Alcohol link to bowel cancer risk

Bowel image
Bowel cancer affects thousands every year

A daily pint of beer or a large glass of wine raises the risk of bowel cancer by about 10%, research suggests.

The Cancer Research UK study found that the more you drink, the more the risk of the disease increases.

Those who drank more than 30 grams of alcohol - less than a couple of pints of strong lager - raised their risk by about 25%.

The study, based on data from almost 480,000 people, features in the International Journal of Cancer.

The lifetime risk for bowel cancer is one in 20 for men, and one in 18 for women.

The government recommends men drink no more than three to four units of alcohol per day and women drink no more than two to three
One UK unit is eight grams of pure alcohol
The number of units depends on what you are drinking, how strong it is and how much there is
Half a pint of 3.5% beer, lager or cider is one unit; one small glass (125ml) of wine at 8% is one unit
Average strength of beers is 5% and average strength of wine is 12.5%

More than 30,000 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK alone.

Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and deputy director of the cancer epidemiology unit in Oxford, said: "The research shows quite clearly that the more alcohol you drink the greater your risk of bowel cancer.

"The increase in risk is not large but it is important that people understand they can reduce their risk of a number of different cancers - including bowel cancer - by cutting down on alcohol."

Confusion over drinking

The results come from the EPIC study, funded by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and other European agencies.

The researchers asked almost 480,000 people about how much alcohol they drank and followed them up for six years. In that period 1,833 people developed colon cancer.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, said: "There is a lot of confusion over safe levels of drinking.

"This partly arises over the increasing strength of some wines and beers and the fact that many pubs offer a large glass of wine that is actually equivalent to one third of a bottle.

"It is important that people do not automatically equate one drink with one unit. A large glass of wine with a high alcohol volume is likely to be the equivalent of considerably more than that."

Cancer Research UK recommends that women should drink less than two units a day and men less than three.

Dr Walker said: "While there is increasing evidence that over indulging in alcohol can increase the risk of some cancers research also shows that by far the biggest risk for life threatening diseases is the combination of smoking together with drinking alcohol."

Frank Soodeen, of Alcohol Concern, said: "In the UK we tend to focus largely on the social consequences of alcohol.

"This report draws yet further attention to the fact that regular drinking also impacts on a person's health, and often in ways that have nothing to do with the popular stereotype of liver complications.

"To minimise risk, it's advisable to stay within the recommended limits, and to avoid drinking every day."

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