Prevention in Oncology is guest edited by Jennifer Ligibel, MD, Chair of ASCO’s Energy Balance Working Group and a member of ASCO’s Cancer Survivorship and Cancer Prevention Committees. Dr. Ligibel is Director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Each Prevention in Oncology column will address one of five areas in cancer prevention— alcohol use, obesity, tobacco use, vaccines to prevent cancer-causing infections, and germline genetics—with the goal of providing strategies to reduce the risk of cancer, as well as preventing cancer recurrence and second malignancy during cancer survivorship.
Among the many surprising findings in ASCO’s National Cancer Opinion Survey, published this past October, is that 30% of the more than 4,000 Americans polled identified alcohol as a risk factor for cancer, and just 38% of respondents said they limit alcohol consumption to prevent cancer.1 The survey results were published a month before ASCO issued its statement on the role alcohol plays in the development of cancer and its recommendations to reduce cancer risk through evidence-based strategies to prevent the excessive use of alcohol and modify behavior.2
The connection between heavy, prolonged alcohol use and the increased risk for certain cancers—mainly those of the upper aerodigestive tract (e.g., oropharyngeal, laryngeal, and esophageal cancers), as well as colon, liver, and female breast cancers—has been well known for at least 3 decades, given the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s determination in 1987 that alcoholic beverages were carcinogenic to humans.3 In fact, it is estimated that 5.5% of all new cancer occurrences and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide4—and 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States5—are attributable to alcohol consumption.