back to article GIVING UP BOOZE CAUSES CANCER - shock study

A shocking new study has revealed that giving up drinking perceptibly increases your chance of getting cancer. If you stay on the booze, however, your chances of getting cancer will be pretty much exactly the same as if you had never touched a drop in your life. One need hardly add that this heartening result for boozers …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Less silly conclusion?

    People who used to drink a lot used to spend a lot of time in smoky pubs or lounging outside on hot summer days, both already known to cause cancer.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      Loads of things they didn't control for their test subjects. They likely just junked all forms of cancer that could be attributed to other things (skin/lung cancer) and focused on other cancers (stomach perhaps?). They should have found a source group that didn't have sunbathing/tanning in their habits, didn't smoke, do drugs, drink coffee, or have a family history of cancers. Then perhaps they'd have a better subject group they could split out based on drinking habits.

  2. Ginolard

    A glaring eror

    I only smoke when I'm a pub, boozing. Hence, if I stopped drinking I would LESS likely to get cancer.

    Pfft. These boffins think they've thought of everything!

    1. Marvin the Martian

      And the reason for giving up booze?

      The only way I can see giving up booze is some major health scare.

      Say cancer or heart trouble plus a severe talking to by a medical specialist: the "stopping booze" category will be heavier on this type of grave dodgers than the other, so I'd expect cancer rates to be higher in this group.

  3. nichomach

    As much.. I'm annoyed by some of your other stuff, this is absolutely EXCELLENT. Well done!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Medicinal porpoises (hic)

    I'm a responsible tea-totalling adult who wouldn't dream of allowing a drop of the evil stuff pass my lips in front of the missus.

    But in light of this important medical research on this incredibly warm and blue-sky sunny day in London, I now feel obliged to follow Lewis Page's advice and go to the 'chemist' this afternoon to get some 'medicine' and do my utmost to keep myself healthy.

    After all, it avoids yet another burden on the NHS. I'm just trying to be a good and healthy citizen. That's all. That's why I'm emailing this link to the missus along with a note that I'll be home from work half a day later than usual for a Friday night.

  5. hplasm

    I'll drink to that!


    (watch that croc...)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    My thoughts exactly...

    ...when I noticed it was the lead item on BBC Breakfast this morning - "OMFG drinking causes cancer!!!1111ONE111!!!"

    Still, worth watching for Susanna Reid....

    1. whats the point of kenny lynch?
      Thumb Up

      god you're right

      susanna is she likes a cinzano on a friday night....

      1. Hyphen
        Thumb Up

        Sod Susanna...

        I like a bit of Keeley Donovan on the weather :) Only real reason to watch Look North (Yorks)!

        1. whats the point of kenny lynch?
          IT Angle


          old bulldog ackroyd still on look north?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Hurrah for the Mash

    What makes you think Henry Brubaker is any more of a pretend scientist than the usual rent-a-quotes the media like to wheel out?

    Although good call on citing the Mash, the nearest thing we now have to a proper news source.

    Pint, obviously and Anon. cos it's not quite the weekend yet...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    former consumers

    "Former consumers" are usually ex-alcoholics, so you would expect them to have the worst health problems, and the study seems to confirm this.

  9. Tegne

    I'm praying for the day that some study proves that Newspaper ink causes cancer.

    How will the Daily Hate report on that discovery I wonder? In the meantime I'm going to stay so drunk I can barely focus, thus avoiding the potential future risk previously mentioned.

    1. Olafthemighty

      @ Tegne

      You've not seen the recent reports about toxins leeching into your cereal from the cardboard packet that's made from recycled newspaper then?

      We're all doomed, I tells thee!

  10. Dunstan Vavasour

    10% for men and 3% for women

    Lewis's interpretation isn't how it was presented this morning.

    It's *not* that 10% is down to former alcohol consumption and 3% down to current, rather that for men it's 10% and for women it's 3%, in both cases down to "current and former alcohol consumption". It's not entirely clear as to whether this correlation is directly down to the alcohol or whether there are other co-correlating variables.

    But, on the whole, this is actually a rather better study than most of the "health stories", involving a very large cohort being followed over more than a decade. The findings, as always, need caution but it's not as rubbish as most of them are.

  11. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    On the other side of the coin

    Getting cancer causes some people to stop drinking.

  12. Pete 2 Silver badge

    shock news - life causes death!

    Never forget, the NHS has a 100% failure rate - everybody dies at some point.

    For me, the biggest question is whether I get a say in the means and timing of my demise. Do I want to drink my self to death, get knocked down by a bus on the way to a checkup, hang on grimly 'till I just fall apart or die slowly and painfully while being popped full of very expensive, yet oddly ineffective, drugs when I'm too old to care much anyway.[1]

    At some point we, as a society, have to get over this fear of death (although aversion to untimely death is reasonable) and be prepared to say: "well he/she had a good innings." or "lucky b~sterds, I hope I go like that". As part of that, we should have the right to push back against the do-gooders, nannies and experts who prognosticate, pontificate and preach that doing too much/too little of something/nothing is good./bad for us. We should be permitted to act like adults: weigh the consequences of our choices in an informed manner and just get on with it.

    [1] other options are available.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I would agree to most of that, except that in Britain, at least, *your enjoyment* will cost *me* with higher taxes and national insurance payments.

      By all means drink yourself into oblivion (I know that's not what you said) but do it on your own dollar.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A Title?

        Have you seen how much tax is on booze these days? He *is* paying for it.

      2. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Vice versa

        I agree wholeheartedly. Just like my NI contributions subsidise the lifestyles of others. In that respect the "worst" offenders are the people who probably led abstemious lives: didn't drink, smoke, partake of substances, exercised regularly and ate sensibly. They will live to a grand old age, far beyond what their savings allow for and will spend many years if not decades in £500++/week nursing homes at the taxpayers expense.

        Contrast that with smokers, to take an example [n.b. I don't fall into that category]. At least they have the decency to die young after generally quite short periods of incapacity/dependency - that's one reason their life insurance rates are lower than healthy peoples'.

      3. Sir Sham Cad

        RE: @pete

        He didn't ask you to buy his pint for him and the stuff is heavily "sin" taxed anyway on top of normal VAT.

        If he does drink himself to an early grave then you're saving on ongoing state pension burden, too.

        Now, if you want to have a go at boozers for running up high NHS bills then you should turn your ire to the binging* obliviot fuckers who get so bladdered they lose the ability to avoid grievously injuring themselves and clog up A&E units everywhere on a Friday or Saturday night.

        *As in properly lashing it up well over your usual limits rather than the "*gasp* TWO large glasses of wine in one night?" bollocks we're currently bombarded with.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Pete 2

      Your suggestion reminded me of what happenned to my Mum recently.

      About 6 months ago she ended up choking on the food she was eating, nothing anyone around her had tried could bring the food stuck in her throat back up and she was slipping out of consciousness.

      Long story short, In the end all worked out fine, but all she can remember now is that her last thoughts at the time wern't "OMG OMG I'm going to die" but rather a more cheery "Ah well, I've managed 65 years, I've done well"

  13. Dotter

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    I saw the title of this article and immediately thought of the Daily Mail. How disappointing it is to see a missed opportunity on their part.

  14. Alex 14
    Thumb Up


    I love it when The Register goes off on these ridiculous rants without any understanding of the subject matter in general or the research specifically, it really is just the ticket for a Friday afternoon. Keep on shining that spotlight!

    I'll be having a drink later despite evidence of the health risks, not because of intellectual flailing to discount that evidence as a result of my not liking what it says.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Time for some facts

    Carefully never mentioned by the nannies at the Dept of Health, there is no medical or scientific basis for UK units and the advice about consuming them, the numbers were simply 'plucked out of the air' at a conference .

    1. DrXym

      Every measurement is arbitrary

      Every unit of measurement - time, mass, length, speed is arbitrary. A metre was just the distance of two marks on a metal stick, a kilo was a chunk of polished metal.

      So someone came up with a definition of a unit of alcohol which happened to correspond to approx 1/2 pint of beer or a glass of wine and that is how things are measured. You may be right that there may be some uncertainty about how much is or is not safe to consume, but that doesn't mean such advice or the measurement used to present it is somehow meaningless.

      1. Martin 19


        he was referring to the "drink no more than x units per week" as being arbitary and pulled out of someone's bum; not the idea of a 'unit' itself.

    2. Michael Dunn


      The other arbitrary unit in constant use by nanny is the portion - make sure you eat 5 portions of fruit and veg per day. So what's a portion? One grape, one pineapple, a pea, a kilo of potatoes?

      A slice of bread could be described a a portion of vegetable matter - at least it used to be made of wheat, before the bakers and supermarkets discovered flour "improvers" which ensure that the bread goes mouldy two days after buying it.

      I'll join you for the pint, though, as long as it's real beer.

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Thanks Lewis, now we know.

    Drink doesn't cause cancer.

    Radiation doesn't cause cancer (not that we can prove!)

    Oh shit, don't tell me that belief in MMGW causes it?

    (Excuse me if I take my medical advice from medical statisticians instead of angry navy drop outs!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Personally, I'm waiting for the following articles from Lewis:

      Wind Power causes cancer

      The Eurofighter decreases your attractiveness to the opposite sex

      Nuclear power reduces erectile dysfunction

  17. TrishaD

    Kingsley Amis

    Once said:

    'There is absolutely nothing worth giving up for the sake of an extra three years in a nursing home in Weston-Supermare.'

    This includes gin.

  18. DrXym

    Lewis Page MD

    Why do I get the feeling that Ben Goldacre is going to give this tabloid coverage a good kicking on Monday.

  19. dr2chase

    Two problems

    First, it isn't just cancer that kills you, and (as I recall) overall mortality rates are lower for moderate drinkers.

    Second, a 3% increase in merely getting (not dying from) cancer, is not exactly world-beating. I know of at least one lifestyle choice, widely practiced in the US (and UK), that is correlated with a 39% higher all-cause mortality rate:

    "After adjustment for age, sex, and educational level, the relative risk in those who cycled [to work] was 0.70 (95% CI, 0.55-0.89). After additional adjustment for leisure time physical activity, body mass index, blood lipid levels, smoking, and blood pressure, the relative risk was 0.72 (95% CI, 0.57-0.91)." [note to amateur math pedants: 1.0 is 139% of 0.72. If the norm is driving, choosing to bike is a 28% reduction in risk.]

    But of course, I am just an unrealistic tiresome loon for pointing this out. "Everyone knows" it's simply not practical. (And much as I disagree with the rah-rah nucular cheerleading, this is yet another example of "people are bone-stupid about risk".)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      overall mortality rates lower??????

      WTF? How did I miss the news that death is now optional?

      Face it, if you were born, you're going to die. What you do between those two events isn't going to change the outcome.

  20. Mark Hillen

    People that drink alcohol, then become teetotal...

    Typically aren't the healthiest of people. People that drink moderate amounts are normal, and less likely to be unhealthy than a reformed alcoholic, or a heart failure patient on aspirin and warfarin who has been told to stop the ethanol drinking.

    This is partly why moderate wine/beer/brandy drinkers are "healthier". Control for the people on the over transplant waiting list and the seriously ill in these studies before reaching these conclusions!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're all alkies?

      Where are the people who just don't actually drink?

      There can't actually be so few of us can there?

      (Yes I have drunk in the past - and even on special occasions maybe once or twice a year - actually have a pint/can/etc.)

  21. MJI Silver badge

    I feel better after a drink

    More relaxed, less stressed, is it any wonder moderate drinkers live longer than teetotalers.

    I am going to monitor the repies to see what gets said.

    I guess 75% will understand and 25% will do what I will reply about later.

    Pint icon - a pint a day keeps the doctor away.

    1. Jason Hall


      I'm sure smokers say exactly the same thing about feeling more relaxed etc. Didn't work out well for them did it?

      Now maybe drinking is nothing like smoking in this respect? (I'm not a doctor so don't know), but if you honestly get so wound up that you *need* to drink/smoke/whatever - then maybe a lifestyle change should be on the cards?

      1. Oninoshiko

        I don't know.

        Seemed to go pretty darn well for Nathan Birnbaum (January 20, 1896 – March 9, 1996). You might know him as George Burns. I remember seeing an interview with him in the early 90's, when asked what his doctor thought of his smoking, he quipped "My doctor's dead."

        Now, I don't smoke, stats show that it increases my risk and accounts show that it lowers my funds. That said, if you want fag, have at it.

  22. Michael 28

    XKCD already did this with jelly beans

    there may be a relationship with cancer and occupation (journalism) as well.. are'nt print inks toxic?

    Mine's the one with the hip flask.

    1. Jason Hall


      Oil-based inks are supposed to be carcinogenic, and newspapers do generally use oild-based. A lot of things are printed with acrylic inks now though.

  23. Anonymous John

    What happens

    if you give up drinking imperceptibly?

    1. Captain DaFt

      That's easy

      Then everybody can see you drinking.

    2. Pigeon
      Thumb Up

      I did that

      Yes, You can't just stop. After two weeks of not drinking at all, I started imperceptibly. As long as I can go all day without a drink, I won't get sacked. Although, my friendly security guard tells me that I still stink of booze in the morning. Bummer.

  24. maccy

    The reason this study is shit is because ...

    1) It focuses on one cause of death. Even if cancer was increased by drinking, maybe strokes or heart disease are decreased? You'd never know. Some big studies show that all-risks death rates are lower for what the NHS would call heavy drinkers (and what the rest of us would consider normal).

    2) It lumps all alcohol together, even though some studies also show that wine is better for you, beer is pretty much neutral, and spirits worse.

    3) Even if the relative risk was different from 1 (say 2 or so) this still wouldn't amount to very much change in the actual death rate, because it's quite low. You'd have a better impact on your lifespan by being careful when you drive a car, than giving up alcohol.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    I am sure that these people have to come up with something to get 'emselves in the news. Of course sober alcoholics will suffer more from all sorts of problems including various assorted cancers because of their abnormal drinking pattern before stopping. I am myself an alcoholic (altho' 27years sober) and it is surely commonsense that we are not 'normal' subjects in terms of our abuse of alcohol previous to sobriety.

    Most people who drink (and do everything else) in moderation, are likely to be significantly healthier on the whole. So don't feel guilty – enjoy a coupla pints – for most people it is actually good for them in terms of unwinding and relaxing with friends. If, on the other hand, you ARE in trouble with the stuff and it is costing you more then money then don't waste time with bullshit counselling from govt funded quangos that is there to give someone a job. Go to AA. otherwise relax :-)

  26. Anonymous Coward

    "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!"

    Now I don't follow this religiously of course but stop worrying about stuff you can't change and try to enjoy being alive! If you need get dressed up in a furry suit and hang about woodland carparks, then so be it. If you need to collect cough lozenge wrappers from the 1960s, then do it!

    Sure stuffing down 26 BigMacs a day is not a bright idea but shatting your pants just because you had a donut today and one Barcardi breezer two weeks ago I am pretty sure is not the secret to a happy life. Stop worrying, find something that makes you happy and doesn't hurt anyone else ( unless they concented of course ) and start living!

    My Mum died of stroke aged 63 after falling out the back of her Land Rover taking photos as prep for her watercolours , she lived every minute enjoying life and it made seeing her off a thousands times easier to cope with, knowing she would have had very few regrets.

    So get down the boozers tonight and raise a glass to life!

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Anofher half

    Then til I get a bottle of red.cheers. best friday reading til my world ends

  28. brake


    In our radiotherapy department, we treat a lot of head and neckcancerpatients. Almost every H&N patient has a drinking (and smoking) problem. A lot of questionmarks......

    1. Russ Williams

      @brake (re:Sir...)

      In my local pubs, we have a lot of people with what the NHS would term drinking (and smoking) problems. Very few of them - in fact, none that I've ever heard tell of - have head/neck cancer.

      On the other paw, both my mother and maternal grandmother have had brain tumours despite never drinking. I'd say that is likely to have a rather more significant effect on my chances than the couple of tasty pints I sank at lunchtime...

  29. Arbuthnot Darjeeling

    good points well made

    one risk I can avoid.


  30. vanishment
    Thumb Up

    Here, here, Lewis!

    Now you're in territory we truly appreciate. One thing was left unmentioned, though: The inherent stress involved in going through life stone-cold sober and never allowing oneself a frothy pint or a wee dram to chase the worries away. Or simply enjoy oneself.

    And numerous studies have concluded that a glass or two is good for the heart.

    Off to the pub, er lab, to further research this important subject.

  31. cnapan

    Stuff the statistics

    Life isn't about statistics. It's about living.

    I think that longevity is a very poor measure of how much someone has got out of life.

    The state and the media should stop urging us to live longer, and should instead help people get the most from their brief time in existence.

    (This isn't a plea for 'unhealthy living'; there are few things more uplifting than a view from the top of a mountain. If anything, it's a plea to the media to stop shovelling shit into people's brains and instead fill their heads with some positive ways of enjoying life while one can. E.g. 'don't spend all your time worrying about when you'd die. Instead, go and share a nice bottle of wine with a friend in front of a decent movie )

  32. JP19

    Been here before

    Cancer Research UK came up with similar drivel a year or two ago which the media regurgitated without question as usual.

    Women who (claimed) to drink less than one unit of alcohol a week were more likely to get cancer than women who drank up to 7 units a week and above 7 the risk increased again (or something along those lines). The reality is the study didn't find anything statistically significant and they chose to claim the noise they published was worth more than the paper it was printed on. Anyone with a clue would know that the contradictory dose relationship indicates what little correlation there was was not causal.

  33. Syren Baran

    Now ...

    where is the statistic that proves that the statisticians which produce statistics claiming negative effects for everything that's fun have a boring sex live?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting update

    I'm pretty sure that's not what table 2 shows though. It shows that former drinkers are more at risk than people continuously drinking 12g/day. It shows that risk increases for each additional increment of 12g/day consumed so that (for example) a man continuously drinking 48g/day (i.e. about 4 drinks) has a 64% greater risk of liver cancer than someone who never drank.

    There's only a 54% increase in risk of liver cancer for male former drinkers vs. teetotal men so we can conclude that continously drinking 4 drinks a day increases mens' risk of liver cancer more than being a former drinker, right? Except they're still not comparable because you don't know how much the former drinkers were drinking.

    If, as an extreme example, all the former drinkers used to drink 10 drinks/day before giving up just in time to be classed as former drinkers within the study period, then they probably drank more overall and the lower HRR might mean you could say that they were at lower risk than continuous 4 drinks/day male drinkers. But you don't know that, so you can't. And for exactly the same reason, you can't say that former drinkers are at much greater risk than current ones. The columns are simply not comparable.

    Any informed readers, medical statisticians or epidemiologists that are reading please correct me if/where I'm going wrong...

  35. david wilson


    >>"the salient fact is this: the Hazard Risk Ratio for lifetime drinkers compared to those who had never (or anyway claimed to have never) touched a drop is almost exactly 1"

    Is it really?

    What the table seems to indicate is the *risk per 12g alcohol/day (~1.5 'units').*

    Drink more, and the risk seems likely to be higher, potentially much higher for heavy drinkers.

    >>"Nonetheless it remains plain from TABLE 2 - as we linked to above - that former drinkers are at much greater risk than current ones, compared to never-drank-at-all."

    To me it'd suggest that an ex-drinker (and what kind of alcohol history might an ex-drinker have?) is at more risk than a small-glass-of-wine per day lifetime drinker.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Tittle Title

    Well the adverts are out..

    Drinking causes breast cancer, drinking causes throat cancer, drinking causes fuckwits at the DOH to have panick attacks like the anxiety driven little weasles they are

    Anon cause I am one of them

  37. Dave 15


    You certainly won't get a job with the BBC with an attitude like that. The BBC coverage of the same report was far less biased than yours. Fitting in with their coverage of anything where someone who might have had a drink gets killed by a copper, or falls over, or might otherwise get hurt, or any other study that shows that drinking is a terrible thing. You see proper unbiased BBC style coverage would have it that anyone who has ever strayed within 40 yards of a pint will suffer eternal damnation bought on by liver damage, cancer, falling under a train and being beaten up an obviously stoically sober upstanding copper. You will never make the grade - how dare you question that beer is undeniably the work of the devil himself?

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