Alcohol Linked to Increased Risk for Cancers of the Mouth and Pharynx

Alcohol May Be Linked to Increased Risk for Cancers of the Mouth and Pharynx

Smoking tobacco significantly increases ones risk for developing cancers of the mouth and pharynx. Even so, some persons who do not smoke still develop these cancers, and a better understanding of other factors that may increase this risk is needed. Now, researchers in Italy report that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk for developing cancers of the mouth and pharynx, even in persons who have never smoked tobacco.

Cancer of the mouth, also called oral cancer, is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the lips, cheeks, teeth, gums, floor of the mouth, tongue, salivary glands, and/or top of the mouth.

Cancer of the pharynx (or

hypopharynx) is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the tube, which extends from behind the nose to the esophagus, through which air and food travel until reaching the trachea or esophagus. Researchers continue to work toward determining which factors may contribute to the development of cancers of the mouth and pharynx so that better treatments, and better strategies for prevention, can be produced and implemented.

A person who has 1 or more characteristics or exposures, or

risk factors, for a type of cancer has a higher chance to develop that type of cancer than a person who does not have these risk factors. Risk factors can be determined by studying the differences between persons who have and persons who do not have a type of cancer. Risk factors that have been suggested in association with cancers of the mouth and/or pharynx include: being age 45 years or older; using tobacco (smoking or chewing); drinking alcohol regularly; and perhaps being infected with the human papillomavirus. Smoking tobacco is, in fact, believed to be the most significant risk factor for developing cancers of the mouth and pharynx. However, because non-smokers sometimes also develop these types of cancer, researchers have sought to determine which characteristics or exposures might prove to be risk factors for persons who have never smoked.

Researchers evaluated the possible risk factors for cancers of the mouth and pharynx in persons who had never smoked tobacco. Characteristics and exposures of 42 persons with mouth or pharyngeal cancer who had never smoked were compared with those of 864 persons who also had never smoked, but did not have mouth or pharyngeal cancer. The results showed that the consumption of alcohol, mainly wine, was a significant risk factor for developing cancers of the mouth and pharynx, particularly in those who had been drinking for 35 years or longer. With regard to other dietary factors, a high intake of butter was shown to increase the cancer risk, while a high intake of fresh fruits and carrots appeared to decrease the cancer risk.

These findings appear to confirm that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk for developing cancers of the mouth and pharynx. The researchers concluded that reducing the amount of alcohol and saturated fats consumed and increasing the number of fruits and carrots eaten may help reduce the risk for developing these types of cancer. (

Oral Oncology, Vol 35, No 4, pp 375-378, 1999)

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