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Does Alcohol Increase Mesothelioma Risk?

A new study suggests that drinking too much could raise the risk for developing malignant mesothelioma or another type of cancer. Surprisingly, not drinking quite enough appears to do the same thing.

The study was conducted by public health researchers in Northern Ireland and at the National Cancer Institute in the US. It included data from nearly 100,000 adults between 55 and 74 participating in the US Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.

To better understand how alcohol impacts cancer development, researchers assessed the overall risk of death among the study subjects, as well as the risk of death specifically from cancer, and compared it with reported average lifetime alcohol consumption.

“In comparison to lifetime light alcohol drinkers (1-3 drinks per week), lifetime never or infrequent drinkers (<1 drink/week), as well as heavy (2-<3 drinks/day) and very heavy drinkers (3+ drinks/day) had increased overall mortality and combined risk of cancer or death,” states the report, which was published this week in PLoS Medicine.

What the Study Means for Mesothelioma

Although the study provides some thought-provoking data on drinking and cancer, the researchers admit there are also flaws that could affect the quality of the data and its applicability to people fighting mesothelioma or another form of cancer.

For instance, the study is limited to older adults, the population known to be at highest risk for developing mesothelioma and other cancers anyway.

In addition, the study does not take into account the socioeconomic status of subjects, a factor that can also play into death rates; wealthier people are more likely to afford better cancer treatment.

The study also stops short of recommending an ideal level of alcohol consumption for people who want to lower their risk of dying from malignant mesothelioma or another type of cancer, though it does does suggest the level is low.

“The results indicate that intake below 1 drink per day were associated with the lowest risk of death,” conclude the authors.

Alcohol and Malignant Mesothelioma

This is not the first study to try to tease apart the correlation between drinking and cancer and mesothelioma patients or those at risk should consider the results in combination with past research.

While a 2010 Australian study of patients with peritoneal mesothelioma found that drinkers experienced far shorter survival after surgery than non-drinkers, a number of other studies have pointed to the potential benefits of red wine consumption in particular.

Scientists at Soonchunhyang University in Cheonan, Korea found that lab mice exposed to 20 mg/kg of resveratrol (a chemical in red wine) daily for 4 weeks experienced suppressed tumor growth and increased mesothelioma survival.

In 2016, the same team found that combining resveratrol and cisplatin produced a powerful synergistic effect that destroyed pleural mesothelioma cells in the lab.

That same year, scientists in the University of Rome’s Department of Clinical Sciences and Translational Medicine concluded that polyphenols like resveratrol, curcumin (turmeric), EGCG (green tea), and quercetin (blueberries, leafy greens) can boost immunity and mediate inflammation, potentially improving the odds of surviving mesothelioma.

For now, the takeaway message for mesothelioma sufferers and for those at risk appears to be drink sparingly, if at all, and make red wine your drink of choice.


Kunzmann, AT, et al, “The association of lifetime alcohol use with mortality and cancer risk in older adults: A cohort study”, June 19, 2018, PLoS Med, eCollection

Lee, YJ, et al, “Cisplatin and resveratrol induce apoptosis and autophagy following oxidative stress in malignant mesothelioma cells”, August 31, 2016, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Epub ahead of print

Benvenuto, Monica, et al, “The Potential Protective Effects of Polyphenols in Asbestos-Mediated Inflammation and Carcinogenesis of Mesothelium”, May 9, 2016, Nutrients

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