Finnish Cancer Registry

29.4.2014

Alcohol-related cancer rates have increased

Based on the latest cancer statistics, after tobacco, alcohol is one of the most important lifestyle-related risk factors for cancer. Alcohol is a known cause of oral cavity, pharyngeal, laryngeal and esophageal cancers and is also known to cause cancers of the liver and the bowel. In women, alcohol use increases their risk of developing breast cancer.

 On a global level, approximately 80 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol, tobacco and smokeless tobacco products. In these cancers alcohol and tobacco potentiate each other's effect. Oral cavity cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer in Finland and in 2012, there were 283 new cases of oral cavity cancer. The incidence of oral cavity cancers has been steadily increasing for decades, with an estimated average annual increase of 2,4 percent per year. The increase in males seems to have stabilized, but female oral cavity cancer incidence continues to grow.
 
Carcinomas at the base of tongue (the posterior third of the tongue) have previously been classified to belong to the group of tongue cancers. However, this has been changed, based on an initiative taken by physicians. Carcinomas at the base of the tongue are now classified as cancers of the pharynx. In 2012, a total of 171 new cases of pharyngeal cancer were diagnosed. The incidence of pharyngeal cancer in males has doubled since the 1970s. Especially the incidence of oropharyngeal cancer in men under 50 years of age has grown. Up to 50–70 percent of all oropharyngeal cancer cases are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV). The association with alcohol consumption plays a minor role.
 
Approximately 100 new cases of laryngeal cancer in men and 15 in women are diagnosed in Finland each year. The incidence of these cancers is on a slight decline both in males and in females. In 2012, a total of 285 new esophageal cancer cases were diagnosed in Finland. Esophageal cancer is slightly more common in men than in women.
 
Bowel and liver cancer rates are also on the rise
 
Other alcohol-related cancers have also heavily increased during the last few years and decades.
Of these cancers, the most common is colon cancer, with the highest number of cases. It has become more common both in males and in females, with an estimated average annual increase of 1,2 percent per year among both sexes. Colon cancer was the fourth most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women in 2012, when a total of 899 men and 934 women were found to have colon cancer. The most important risk factor for bowel cancer is the Western life style, including alcohol as one of the risk factors. The higher rates of bowel cancers diagnosed may partly be due to the fact that bowel cancer screenings have been organized in Finland since the year 2004.
 
Liver cancer rates have increased among both sexes, but substantially more in males. In 2012, a total of 300 men and 159 women were found to have liver cancer. In the early 1980s only slightly over 100 liver cancer cases in men and women were found each year. Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver is the most important risk factor for liver cancer. Those with hepatitis B and C are a specific group at risk. For this group, even small amounts of alcohol may have disastrous effects on the liver. Smoking is a worsening factor for liver cancer: those smoking heavily and drinking at least 4 units of alcohol per day have a nearly tenfold risk for developing liver cancer.
 
In 2012, a total of 4,694 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. In breast cancer, the role of alcohol is less significant compared to other risk factors. Yet, each daily unit of alcohol increases the risk of morbidity by 7–12 percent. As breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women, the role of alcohol should not be understated.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the incidence of alcohol-related cancers and cancer mortality can be reduced by influencing the pricing and availability of alcohol and alcohol advertising.
 
In Finland the National Institute for Health and Welfare is responsible for the Cancer Registry and has made a contract with the Cancer Society of Finland for the practical maintenance of the registration activities.
You can find more information on the statistics here:
 
More information:
 
Maarit Leinonen 
Chief Medical Officer 
Finnish Cancer Registry
tel: +358 50 412 5841
firstname.lastname@cancer.fi
 
Päivi Hämäläinen
Director of Department
National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)
tel. +358 29 524 7665
firstname.lastname@thl.fi