Estimation of cancers caused by light to moderate alcohol consumption in the European Union

Eur J Public Health. 2021 Jul 13;31(3):591-596. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckaa236.


Background: Research has identified alcohol to be an important risk factor for several types of cancers. This study estimates the number of incident cancers attributable to alcohol consumption in the European Union (EU) in 2017, with a special focus on those caused by light to moderate drinking levels.

Methods: The attributable-fraction methodology is used to estimate the number of new cancer cases in the year 2017 in the EU caused by alcohol use, and further examines those due to light to moderate drinking levels, defined here as alcohol consumption of <20 g of pure alcohol per day.

Results: Light to moderate drinking levels of alcohol caused almost 23 000 new cancer cases in the EU in 2017, and accounted for 13.3% of all alcohol-attributable cancers, and 2.3% of all cases of the seven alcohol-related cancer types. Almost half of these (∼11 000 cases) were female breast cancers. Also, more than a third of the cancer cases due to light to moderate drinking resulted from a light drinking level of <1 standard drink per day (total: 37%; women: 40%; men: 32%).

Conclusions: Alcohol use, including light to moderate drinking, continues to cause considerable cancer burden, and efforts should be made to reduce this burden. In addition to the alcohol control policies suggested by the World Health Organization, public information campaigns and the placement of warning labels on alcohol containers advising of the cancer risk associated with alcohol use should be initiated to increase knowledge about the alcohol-cancer link.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • European Union
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Risk Factors