The latest critique by The ISFAR considers recent research that looks at a possible connection between alcohol consumption and cases of lymphoid cancer

The latest critique by The ISFAR considers recent research that looks at a possible connection between alcohol consumption and cases of lymphoid cancer

Many prospective studies have shown that moderate drinkers are at lower risk of certain types of lymphoid cancer. A report in 2009 from the Million Women’s Study in the UK, for example, found that alcohol consumption showed a significant inverse association with the occurrence of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL).

Further, a 2012 paper from that study, based on 9,162 incident cases of haematological malignancy, including 7,047 lymphoid and 2,072 myeloid cancers, concluded: “Among predominantly moderate alcohol drinkers, higher intake was associated with lower risk of lymphoid malignancies.” Those investigators did not find a significant effect of alcohol on the risk of myeloid tumors, such as acute myeloid leukemia.

Another 2012 paper, based on almost 2,000 cases of NHL, concluded: “Findings from the prospective study presented here support the hypothesis that alcohol intake might be associated with a reduced risk of NHL.” 

The authors of a recent paper from the Netherlands, based on 17.3 years of follow up with 1,375 cases of lymphoid and 245 cases of myeloid neoplasms, did not find a statistically significant reduction in the risk of lymphoid cancers, and the authors suggest: “If any association between alcohol consumption and lymphoid neoplasms exists, our study suggests an increased risk rather than a decreased risk.”

While reasons for this difference in results of this study when compared with other recent studies may be used to better understand the association between alcohol and such cancers, reviewers in our forum were concerned about a number of aspects of this study.

The authors had data on alcohol consumption only at baseline for this very long (17+ year) follow up, so changes (either increases or decreases in intake) were not known. Further, the key relations reported were not adjusted for a large number of potentially confounding variables, such as a positive family history of hematological cancer. (The authors state that they carried out such multivariable analyses but do not present the data.)

Of even more concern was the apparent inverse effect of alcohol on cancer risk for a number of types of tumours when dose-response relations were shown.

Given the rather consistent findings in other very large studies of hematological malignancies that the risk of many types of lymphoid cancer may be reduced by alcohol, and inconsistencies in the results of the present analyses, it is difficult to conclude that the present paper should change our current interpretation of the association between alcohol and these types of cancer.

Forum members look forward to reports from other prospective studies on this topic. For the present, however, the overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decrease in the risk of many types of lymphoid malignancies, but has little effect on myeloid cancers.

To read the full critique, click here.

These critiques are published with the permission of The ISFAR.