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Heavy Alcohol Consumption Linked to Lung Cancer

Higher BMI and Education Level May Be Protective

Oakland, CA — Heavy alcohol consumption may be linked to a greater risk of developing lung cancer; while higher body mass index (BMI) and higher education levels are associated with lower risk of the deadly disease.

The Kaiser Permanente-led research is being presented this week at CHEST 2011, the 77th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).

Heavy alcohol consumption was related to increased risk of lung cancer, while specific ethnic groups, including African American men and Asian women, had slightly higher risks for lung cancer. Conversely, higher BMI and higher socioeconomic status were associated with a lower risk of lung cancer in men and women.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Heavy drinking has multiple harmful effects, including cardiovascular complications and increased risk for lung cancer, said Stanton Siu, MD, FCCP, with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA. “We did not see a relationship between moderate drinking and lung cancer development. So it appears probable that most middle-aged and older moderate drinkers have coronary artery protection and no increased risk of lung cancer risk.”

Dr. Siu and his research team studied 126,293 people who provided baseline data from 1978-1985 and followed them until 2008 to determine their risk for developing lung cancer in relation to cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, gender, ethnicity, BMI, and level of education. Of the 1,852 people who developed lung cancer during this time, results showed that cigarette smoking remained a strong predictor of all types of lung cancer; however, heavy alcohol consumption (> 3 alcoholic drinks per day) also increased lung cancer risk, with a slightly higher risk related to heavy beer consumption as opposed to wine and liquor.

“Genetic variations among different ethnic groups could explain the elevated risk for lung cancer. Environmental exposures, occupation, and diet can also influence lung cancer risk,” said Dr. Siu.

Reduced Risk of Lung Cancer

Although researchers found several factors that increased lung cancer risk, other aspects were found to be related to a reduced risk of the disease. Dr. Siu and team found an inverse relationship between BMI and lung cancer risk, in which higher BMI levels were associated with a lower risk for lung cancer. A similar relationship was seen in those who had graduated from college. The researchers hypothesize that people with more education probably have a generally healthy lifestyle. The BMI-cancer association was independent of smoking and researchers speculate that nutritional factors may be involved.

“Smoking remains the primary risk factor for lung cancer, yet we can’t ignore other environmental or lifestyle factors that may impact one’s health,” said Suhail Raoof, MBBS, FCCP, President of the American College of Chest Physicians. “Quitting smoking or never starting can help to reduce lung cancer risk as can living an overall active and healthy lifestyle.”

CHEST 2011 is the 77th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, held October 22 – 26 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The ACCP represents 18,200 members who provide patient care in the areas of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine in the United States and throughout the world. The mission of the ACCP is to promote the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chest diseases through education, communication, and research. For more information about the ACCP, please visit the ACCP Web site at

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