Drinking just one bottle of wine a week, that’s less than one small (125ml) glass of wine a day, increases the lifetime risk of cancer by the same amount as smoking 10 cigarettes a week for women and five for men, according to new research. 

In a study published in the BMC Public Health journal, scientists set out to discover how many cigarettes there are in a bottle of wine. That is, they aimed to raise awareness of the cancer-related risks associated with drinking alcohol by comparing them with those of smoking.

The researchers estimated that drinking even moderate levels of alcohol, for example just one bottle of wine per week, can put put people at risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer, which is the most commonly occurring cancer in women in the UK.

Dr Theresa Hydes, the corresponding author, said: “Our study describes the percentage increase of the risk of cancer within the UK population associated with different levels of alcohol consumption, and is the only study to provide a ‘cigarette equivalent’ in terms of harm.

“We aimed to answer the question: Purely in terms of cancer risk – that is, looking at cancer in isolation from other harms – how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine? Our findings suggest that the ‘cigarette equivalent’ of a bottle of wine is five cigarettes for men and ten for women per week,” she went on. 

They also found that drinking three bottles of wine per week (approximately half a bottle per day) is equivalent to smoking roughly eight cigarettes per week for men and 23 cigarettes per week for women.

According to Cancer Research UK, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of seven types of cancer: bowel, breast, laryngeal (voice box), liver, mouth, oesophageal (food pipe) and pharyngeal cancer (upper throat).

Sophia Lowes, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Smoking remains the biggest cause of cancer, so this comparison can be useful to raise awareness of less well-known risk factors like alcohol. It highlights that even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of cancer.

“Research is clear – the less a person drinks, the lower the risk of cancer. Small changes like having more alcohol-free days can make a big difference to how much you drink.

“But smoking causes over four times as many cases of cancer in the UK compared to alcohol. If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is stop completely, and you’re most likely to be successful using support from your local free stop-smoking service.”

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