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Mesothelioma Update: Drinking and Cancer Risk

drinking and cancer riskA new study on the link between drinking and cancer risk may make people at risk for mesothelioma think twice about their alcohol consumption. 

The new study is the latest to draw a direct line between drinking and cancer risk. According to the report released this week, more than 4 percent of new cancer cases last year were linked to alcohol use. 

Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma. But not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets mesothelioma. Genetic factors play a role. But the new alcohol study suggests that drinking could also be a catalyst for cancer development. 

The Link Between Drinking and Cancer Risk

The new study was conducted by scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and appears in the latest issue of The Lancet Oncology. It is a population-based study. This means it focuses on the drinking habits of large groups of people, rather than on individuals. 

The study on drinking and cancer risk says alcohol caused about 741,000 new cancer cases last year. The vast majority of those cases (86 percent) occurred in heavy drinkers. But 1 in 7 were attributed to light to moderate alcohol consumption – up to two drinks per day. 

“Even light to moderate drinking has a significant impact on the burden of cancer.” writes IARC researcher and lead study author Harriet Rumgay.

Malignant mesothelioma is not mentioned in the new study. Mesothelioma is one of the world’s rarest cancers. But the report did find a direct link between drinking and cancer risk of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum, liver, and breast. 

What is the Message for Mesothelioma Patients?

Even though the study focuses on just a few cancers, it contains a clear message for people at risk for mesothelioma and other malignancies: Drinking may increase your risk. 

This is not the first study to find a link between drinking and cancer risk but it is one of the largest. 

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and in Northern Ireland analyzed data on nearly 100,000 adults in 2018. That study also found that people who had more than two drinks a day were more likely to die of cancer. But not every study on alcohol has found a negative correlation. 

Findings from other studies on drinking and cancer risk:

  • A 2010 Australian study found that people with peritoneal mesothelioma who drank had shorter survival after surgery.
  • A 2016 Korean study found lab mice exposed to resveratrol (a chemical in red wine) daily for four weeks had longer mesothelioma survival compared to untreated mice. 
  • A 2016 Italian study also found that polyphenols (like resveratrol) may help reduce the chances of contracting mesothelioma.
  • A 2019 Japanese study of 120,000 drinkers and non-drinkers found that even light drinkers have a higher incidence of cancers like pleural mesothelioma.

These studies seem to suggest that any protective effects from wine come from components other than the alcohol. 

To safely navigate drinking and cancer risk, asbestos-exposed individuals and mesothelioma patients who drink should discuss the pros and cons of alcohol consumption with their healthcare provider. 


Rumgay H, Shield K, Charvat H, Ferrari P, Sornpaisarn B, Obot I, et al., “Global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption: a population-based study”, The Lancet Oncology, July 14, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(21)00279-5

Zaitsu, M, et al, “Light to moderate amount of lifetime alcohol consumption and risk of cancer in Japan”, Cancer, December 9, 2019, Epub ahead of print, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.32590

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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