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Drinking and Mesothelioma Risk: How Much is Too Much?

drinking and mesothelioma risk

The findings of a major new study on cancer and alcohol suggest there may be an even stronger link between drinking and mesothelioma risk than previously thought.

The Japanese study included more than 120,000 drinkers and non-drinkers. It tracked which participants got any type of cancer over a 15 year period. Cancer diagnoses were correlated with participants’ drinking habits. 

The report found that even light drinkers faced a higher incidence of cancers like malignant mesothelioma. It is one of the largest studies to connect cancer incidence, drinking and mesothelioma risk. 

Even Light to Moderate Drinkers Face Risk

Scientists have known about the connection between drinking and mesothelioma risk for some time. But the problem of alcohol consumption and cancer had not been studied in Japan. 

The new study included patient records from multiple Japanese hospitals. Patients hospitalized between 2005 and 2016 answered questions about their drinking habits when they were admitted. 

Sixty-three thousand study subjects had cancer. Another 63,000 did not have a cancer diagnosis. Researchers matched the two groups for sex, age, admission date, and admitting hospital. 

The study did not focus specifically on drinking and mesothelioma risk. But it showed that the incidence of all cancers was higher in people who drink. Compared to non-drinkers, those who drank just one drink a day were five percent more likely to get cancer. 

“In Japan, even light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to be associated with elevated cancer risks,” the researchers conclude.

Understanding Drinking and Mesothelioma Risk

The link between drinking and mesothelioma risk is probably complex. The Japanese study suggests that the connection exists. But it does not explain why the drinkers get more cancer than non-drinkers. 

National Cancer Institute researchers published a study on cancer and alcohol in 2018. That study included 100,000 people between 55 and 74. Like the Japanese study, it showed that people who drank the most had the highest rates of cancers like mesothelioma. 

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

But that study stopped short of drawing a direct line between cancer and drinking. One problem is that older people already face a higher mesothelioma risk. And the study did not consider socioeconomic factors which also impact cancer deaths.

There is at least one positive connection between drinking and mesothelioma risk. A 2016 Korean study found that lab mice exposed to 20 mg/kg of resveratrol (a chemical in red wine) daily experienced suppressed tumor growth and increased mesothelioma survival.

Other studies confirm that exposure to resveratrol improves mesothelioma survival. 


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

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

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