Christopher Hitchens is an award-winning author, journalist and political observer whose outspoken views have often placed him at the center of controversy. For the past year, Hitchens has been battling a new adversary — cancer of the esophagus.
This form of cancer is linked to tobacco and alcohol use and is particularly deadly because symptoms don’t appear until the later stages of the disease. Hitchens, a heavy drinker and smoker for decades, is currently undergoing treatment. He faces only a 5% chance of surviving more than 5 years.
Christopher Hitchens’ personal tragedy underlines a lesser known fact about alcohol abuse. Most people are aware of some of the health problems that come with heavy alcohol consumption, but they may not know that alcohol use is linked to several forms of cancer.
Studies conducted in Europe and reported on in April of 2011 by Reuters News Agency found that about 10% of all cancers in men and 3% of those in women are caused by alcohol abuse. The study was based on almost 80,000 cases of cancer in patients throughout Western Europe.
Alcohol increases the chances of cancer in these parts of the body:
• Pharynx (throat)
• Larynx (voice box)
• Rectum and colon
According to the American Cancer Society, there is no one type of alcoholic beverage that is riskier than others. The main factor the increases the risk of cancer is the amount of alcohol consumed over time. Those who abuse alcohol on a daily basis for many years are most affected by alcohol-related cancers.
The link between alcohol and cancer is not fully understood. It is believed that it can damage body tissues and that as cells attempt to repair themselves there may be DNA changes that are the first sign of cancer. Alcohol may also act as a solvent, delivering dangerous chemicals like those found in tobacco to organs in the body.
In order to prevent cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that alcohol should be consumed in moderation, with men limited to no more than 2 drinks per day and women limited to 1 drink. Dozens of medical studies have found evidence that this type of moderate drinking will decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease as well as lowering the risk of alcohol-related cancers. In addition, tobacco should be avoided since the combined use of alcohol and tobacco can lead to cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus.
For heavy drinkers, the risk of contracting alcohol-related cancer is one more reason to stop drinking altogether. The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund have estimated that one third of the most common cancers in the United States, Britain and China could be prevented if people avoided alcohol abuse, ate healthier food and exercised more.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Christopher Hitchens recently offered this advice, “To anyone watching, if you can hold it down on the smokes and cocktails you may be well advised to do so.”