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By Megan Brooks

Alcohol consumption, including risky drinking behaviors, is common among adult cancer survivors, even people currently receiving cancer treatment, new research shows.

An analysis of more than 15,000 adults with a cancer diagnosis revealed that nearly 80% were current drinkers. Among current drinkers, 13% consumed a moderate amount of alcohol in a typical day, while close to 40% engaged in hazardous drinking.

The numbers are “staggering,” Yin Cao, ScD, MPH, of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, told Medscape Medical News. “Most concerning,” said Cao, “is that those on cancer treatment are engaged in a similar level of risky drinking.”

The study was published online August 10 in JAMA Network Open.

Drinking alcohol can increase a person’s risk for a variety of cancers, including oral and pharyngeal cancer as well as esophageal, colorectal, liver, and female breast cancers.

Consuming alcohol is also associated with numerous risks among people diagnosed with cancer. In the short term, alcohol consumption can worsen post-surgical outcomes as well as impair cognition and amplify cardiotoxicity in patients undergoing chemotherapy. In the long term, drinking alcohol can elevate a person’s risk of recurrence, secondary tumors, and mortality.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recently issued a statement reinforcing the need to prioritize alcohol consumption as a key modifiable behavioral factor in the cancer control research agenda.

The current American Cancer Society guidelines indicate that it’s best to avoid or, at least, minimize alcohol consumption. Men should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day and women should have no more than one drink per day.