Sensationalist promotion by the World Cancer Research Fund

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Today the Daily Telegraph featured the powerful headline "Just three alcoholic drinks a day can cause liver cancer, warns new study" , based on a press release from the World Cancer Research Fund headed “Three alcoholic drinks a day can cause liver cancer, new research finds”.

But examining the WCRF report in detail reveals a somewhat more nuanced story. In particular the report says

  • No conclusion was possible for intakes below 45 grams per day.” (page 27) – a standard UK unit is 8gms, so this is nearly 6 units a day, double the male and triple the female recommended limits. It is 500 mls (2/3 of a bottle) of 11% wine. This large daily consumption is the starting point for the risk calculations.
  • Above this consumption, they estimate an increased risk of 4% for each 10gm/day consumed. (Table 4 , page 25). So finishing off the bottle (an extra 22 gms of alcohol), would put your risk up by about 10%.

So, according to this study, if you already drink a lot, and you drink quite a lot more, your risk of a rare cancer goes up a small amount. But somehow this did not find its way into the sensationalist press release.

There's no doubt that excessive drinking is bad for you and those around you. But does this justify exaggerated and misleading claims? They got their publicity, but perhaps the WCRF should value its scientific credibility
a bit more.


At the end of the article the author says that 1 in 100 men will get liver cancer in their lifetimes... This sounds very high, is it corrext?

Unfortunately, this is par for the course for WRCF press releases. On the earlier comment: According to the male incidence per year is about 9 per 100,000, but rises after 50 years old towards 60 per 100,000 by age 90. That would sum to about a 1 in 100 lifetime risk only if every man alive at 50 is still alive at 90. Did an author thoughtlessly assume that? 1 in 100 looks like an "afterunthought" to me.

I think part of the problem here may be confusion between the UK's 'unit of alcohol' (10ml of ethanol) and the USA's 'standard drink' (18 ml of ethanol). Perhaps they should have issued separate press releases for each country.