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16-02-2012 | Psychology | Article

Alcoholics show lower cancer survival


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MedWire News: Alcoholics with cancer show significantly lower survival rates than the general populations, according to research.

This finding is the result of a study conducted in a large cohort of Italian alcoholics, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Overall, 2272 alcoholics (805 women) with a mean age of 43.8 years were involved in the study. All had been treated at the Alcohol Centre of Florence and were followed up for a mean period of 9.6 years. By the end of the study 28% of the patients had died.

"The consumption of alcohol is an underappreciated risk factor for a wide range of conditions," write Domenico Palli (Cancer Research and Prevention Institute, Florence, Italy) and colleagues. "It causes approximately 4% of all deaths worldwide and 5% of the global burden of disease."

In this study they found that the alcoholics had a significantly increased mortality risk from all malignant cancers (standardized mortality ratio [SMR] =3.9) and other specific diseases, in terms of the general population.

The types of malignant cancer that were associated with the greatest disparity in mortality between the study alcoholics and the general population were cancers of the pharynx (SMR=22.8), oral cavity (SMR=22.2), liver (SMR=13.5), and larynx (SMR=10.7).

They also had an increased mortality risk from infections (SMR=10.1), diabetes (SMR=3.6), immunologic disorders (SMR=8.1), nervous system disorders (SMR=3.5), cardiovascular system disorders (SMR=2.4), respiratory system disorders (SMR=5.8), digestive system disorders (SMR=26.4), violent causes (SMR=6.6), and liver cirrhosis (SMR=40.0).

The study showed the difference in mortality rates between alcoholic women and the general female population was greater than that between alcoholic men and the general male population. The researchers say that this may be due to the increased vulnerability of women to alcohol and the differences in alcohol metabolism seen between the genders.

Despite this, overall survival was longer for alcoholic women than alcoholic men. "Probably, female alcoholics are more likely to obtain help and achieve remission and tend to benefit more than men from continued participation in treatment programs," speculate the researchers.

They suggest that the association between alcoholism and cancer development may be due to the "well-known carcinogenic effect of ethanol," and add that alcoholism is also often associated with other cancer risk factors such as smoking and a diet low in fruit and vegetables.

By Chloe McIvor

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