Alcohol consumption has been linked to several cancers and other health conditions, leading to medical recommendations to refrain from drinking alcohol or to keep alcohol consumption low. A prospective cohort study on more than 250,000 people that investigates the relationship between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer has been published
This study included survey data on Norwegians. Data were collected at an initial period and again on average 18 years later. Upon follow-up, 3023 colon cancers and 1439 rectal cancers were identified. The results showed that both men and women who consumed more alcohol were at a higher risk for colon cancer. Even more pronounced was the heightened risk for rectal cancer amongst those who consumed more alcohol.
In addition to the specific link between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancers, another trend emerged through this study. Specifically, higher alcohol consumption was also associated with higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (HDL-C), which is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol.” Interestingly, higher HDL-C levels tend to be inversely associated with colon cancer in men, opening the question of the nature of the relationships between alcohol, HDL-C, and colorectal cancers.
This March, which we recognize as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we will continue to consider not only how to best care for colorectal cancer patients but also what research needs to be done for us to improve care. As it becomes clearer what risk factors increase the likelihood for developing colorectal cancer, the easier it will be for physicians to prevent colorectal cancers from emerging in patients in the first place – and the more equipped we will be to tackle them when they do arise.
Tverdal, A. et al. (2021). Alcohol consumption, HDL-cholesterol and incidence of colon and rectal cancer: A prospective cohort study including 250,010 participants. Alcohol Alcohol, doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agab007.