The alcohol and oral cancer link

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Print this page Email A Friend!

ALTHOUGH tobacco use has been proven to increase the risk of oral cancer, people who use both alcohol and tobacco are at an especially high risk of contracting the disease.

Scientists now believe that these substances synergistically interact, increasing each other's harmful effects.

Alcohol is the common term for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, a chemical substance found in beer, wine and liquor, as well as in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils (scented liquids taken from plants). Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugars and starches by yeast.

Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. Alcohol abuse (when defined as more than 21 standard drinks in one week) is the second largest risk factor for the development of oral cancer. Oral and pharyngeal cancer risk is almost tripled in alcohol drinkers who currently smoke tobacco, while it is 32 per cent higher in alcohol drinkers who do not currently smoke.

Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer:

• Head and neck cancer: Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for certain head and neck cancers, particularly cancers of the oral cavity (excluding the lips), pharynx (throat), and larynx (voice box).

People who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (approximately 3.5 or more drinks per day) have at least two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than non-drinkers. Moreover, the risks of these cancers are substantially higher among persons who consume this amount of alcohol and also use tobacco.

• Oesophageal cancer: Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a particular type of oesophageal cancer called oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolises alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of alcohol-related oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

How does alcohol increase the risk of cancer?

Researchers have identified multiple ways that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, including:

• metabolising (breaking down) ethanol in alcoholic drinks to acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen; acetaldehyde can damage both DNA (the genetic material that makes up genes) and proteins;

• generating reactive oxygen species (chemically reactive molecules that contain oxygen), which can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats) through a process called oxidation;

• impairing the body's ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk, including vitamin A; nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate; vitamin C; vitamin D; vitamin E; and carotenoids;

• increasing blood levels of oestrogen, a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer.

But no matter how alcohol causes cancer, one thing is clear... the best way to reduce the risk of cancer from alcohol is to drink less of it — whether that's by having more alcohol-free days every week, swapping out some glasses of booze for juice during a night out, or picking lower strength drinks or smaller servings.

Dr Sharon Robinson DDS has offices at the Dental Place Cosmetix Spa, located at s hop #5, Winchester Business Centre, 15 Hope Road, Kingston 10. Dr Robinson is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Oral Health Sciences. She may be contacted at 630-4710. Like their Facebook page, Dental Place Cosmetix Spa for an opportunity to take advantage of weekly specials.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon