Background: In the Republic of Korea, cancer is the most common cause of death, and cancer incidence and mortality rates are the highest in East Asia. As alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans, we estimated the burden of cancer related to alcohol consumption in the Korean population.
Methods: The cancer sites studied were those for which there is convincing evidence of a positive association with alcohol consumption: oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, larynx and female breast. Sex- and cancer-specific population attributable fractions (PAF) were calculated based on: 1) the prevalence of alcohol drinkers among adults ≥ 20 years of age in 1989; 2) the average daily alcohol consumption (g/day) among drinkers in 1998; 3) relative risk (RR) estimates for the association between alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer incidence obtained either from a large Korean cohort study or, when more than one Korean study was available for a specific cancer site, meta-analyses were performed and the resulting meta-RRs were used; 4) national cancer incidence and mortality data from 2009.
Results: Among men, 3% (2,866 cases) of incident cancer cases and 2.8% (1,234 deaths) of cancer deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption. Among women, 0.5% (464 cancer cases) of incident cancers and 0.1% (32 deaths) of cancer deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption. In particular, the PAF for alcohol consumption in relation to oral cavity cancer incidence among Korean men was 29.3%, and the PAFs for pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer incidence were 43.3% and 25.8%, respectively. Among Korean women, the PAF for colorectal cancer incidence was the highest (4.2%) and that for breast cancer incidence was only 0.2%. Avoiding alcohol consumption, or reducing it from the median of the highest 4th quartile of consumption (56.0 g/day for men, 28.0 g/day for women) to the median of the lowest quartile (2.80 g/day for men, 0.80 g/day for women), would reduce the burden of alcohol-related cancers in Korea.
Conclusions: A reduction in alcohol consumption would decrease the cancer burden and a significant impact is anticipated specifically for the cancers oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx among men in the Republic of Korea.