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Heavy Drinking Raises Risk of Liver Cancer: Study
Thu Feb 21, 1:20 PM ET
By Melissa Schorr

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drinking high volumes of alcohol each day is associated with a greater risk of developing liver cancer, a team of Italian researchers reports.

"The quantity of alcohol consumed is the most important determinant of the risk of having liver disease due to alcohol," study author Dr. Francesco Donato, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Brescia in Italy, told Reuters Health. "Drinking a large amount of alcohol for a few years is a risk-taking behavior, whereas drinking a low-to-moderate amount for many years is probably safe for an individual."

Alcohol use is known to be a major cause of liver diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. The researchers hoped to determine what amount of alcohol is considered safe to consume and what amount was most associated with this increased risk.

Donato and colleagues studied 464 Italian men and women diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, and 824 patients with no liver damage. All were asked to report their lifetime drinking history. The study results are published in the February 15th issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers found that for both men and women, drinking more than 60 grams of alcohol a day, equivalent to around four to five glasses of wine, was associated with an elevated risk of developing liver cancer, while drinking between 40 and 60 grams of alcohol daily, the equivalent of three to four glasses of wine, was associated with a moderate risk.

"Drinking up to 40 grams per day is probably not dangerous for the liver of a healthy individual," Donato noted, "and may (even) be beneficial to his or her cardiovascular system."

Because most of the patients were primarily wine drinkers, the investigators could draw no conclusions about the effects of different types of alcohol.

The researchers also found that the risk of developing liver cancer was even greater for patients who had been diagnosed with either hepatitis C or hepatitis B. "The risk of (liver cancer) in subjects with a viral hepatitis infection approximately doubles if he or she also drinks alcohol regularly," Donato noted. "Prudently, they should totally abstain from drinking alcohol."

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002:155:323-331.

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