HEALTH ALERT: New study shows alcohol use high among cancer survivors, those going through treatment

Experts are surprised at the findings
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 3:22 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new study finds alcohol consumption, even risky drinking is common among cancer survivors and those in the midst of treatment.

It’s a growing concern among medical professionals as alcohol is a known carcinogen for several types of cancer. It’s also known to complicate cancer treatment, like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Dr. Noelle LoConte, a UW Health oncologist who co-authored the national study, said she is shocked by the results.

The Nationwide study run by the National Institutes of Health posed several alcohol-related questions to a diverse group of 15,000 cancer survivors and about 1,500 going through treatment.

“We found somewhat shockingly that most cancer survivors and most patients with cancer on treatment are drinking, about 77% for both groups,” said Dr. LoConte.

The study also found approximately one in four reported binge drinking. Thirteen percent exceeded moderate drinking and almost 40 percent engaged in hazardous drinking.

Dr. LoConte admits the results are much higher than she was expecting, especially because alcohol can impact treatment, cure rate and cancer recurrence.

“We were quite surprised. We know with the pandemic alcohol use across the us has really increased especially in women. So I think what we’re starting to see is just more and more permissive use of alcohol, including when you’re on really serious cancer treatment,” said Dr. LoConte.

While she believes the pandemic is certainly a factor here, she said alcohol misconceptions are also at play.

How many times have you heard? One glass of red wine can help with your heart health?

According to the American heart association, there’s no research to suggest a cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart heath.

“Yeah, I think the problem with alcohol messaging is that it’s a little bit messy. If you’re thinking purely from a cancer prevention standpoint, there is no safe amount of alcohol use. But of course, we’re not just worried about cancer prevention, right? Health and wellness is more than just your risk of cancer,” said Dr. LoConte. “Just be aware, we know only about a third of our population is even aware that alcohol is a carcinogen.”

Here’s the message Dr. LoConte would like everyone to take away from this study.

“I think the main message is that alcohol use is probably not safe during treatment for cancer and we really all should try to stay under those recommended limits, whether we’re cancer survivors or not. So again, one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men,” said Dr. LoConte.

Dr. LoConte said if you’re concerned about your alcohol use, talk to your doctor because people can die from alcohol withdrawal.

You can read the complete study by clicking here.