Alcohol And Seniors


Oral Cancer

Oral cancer (cancer of the mouth, lips) is a disease that strikes 3,000 Canadians every year. This form of  cancer has a higher mortality rate than either melanoma or cervical cancer. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is low, at just below 50 percent. However, if the cancer is  detected  early,  the five-year survival increases sharply to 80 percent. (1)


Key Risk Factors

 The key risk factors for developing oral cancer are:

Normally, the cells of the mouth are quite resistant to damage. However, repeated injury from smoking and alcohol may cause sores or painful areas where cancer can start. If left untreated, oral cancer has the potential to spread to the lymph nodes and lungs. (1)



How Much Alcohol Does It Take to Start Causing a Problem?

The short answer is "We don't know".  A ten  year British  study found that the likelihood of developing oral cancer was much higher among people who drank more than 20 units a week (or  the equivalent of 12 standard drinks in Canada). (2) Some recent research suggests that drinking liquor  straight (as opposed to  drinking liquor with mix) increases the risk of  oral cancer:  the alcohol concentration increases the risk. (3) People with alcohol use problems and older smokers are often unaware  of their risk of developing oral cancer. (4)


Does Red Wine Have a Protective Effect?


Some laboratory research suggests drinking red wine may have a protective effect on oral cancers. In particular, resveratrol and quercetin  which are  two phenolic compounds in red wine,  inhibit the growth of oral cancer cells, specifically  they inhibit  the growth of squamous carcinoma cells and DNA synthesis. (5)  At this point, we do not know  yet how well this lab research may apply to people's lives, or  at what level of red wine consumption might confer positive effects without also creating other risks.

It is clear that you do not need the fermented version of the fruit to get this potential benefit from resveratrol.  Red grapes are high in resveratrol; as are raspberries, peanuts, and mulberries. The resveratrol is in the flesh of the fruit.


There is indication that people who have diets low in fruit, are also at increased risk of developing oral cancer.


Sources and References


(1) Ontario Dental Association

(2) Llewelyn, J. & Mitchell, R. (1994)  Smoking, alcohol and oral cancer in South East Scotland: A 10-year experience. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 32(3):146-152.

(3) Huang, W.Y.,  Winn, D.M..,  Brown, L.M.., Gridley, G.., Bravo-Otero, E..,  Diehl, S.R..,  Fraumeni, J.F.,  & Hayes, R.B. (2003). Alcohol concentration and risk of oral cancer in Puerto Rico. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(10), 881-887.

(4) Hay, J.L.,  Ostroff, J.S.,  Cruz, G.D..,  LeGeros, R.Z.., Kenigsberg, H., &  Franklin, D.M. (2002) Oral cancer risk perception among participants in an oral cancer screening program. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 11(2),155-158.

(5) (2000). Red wine may reduce oral cancer risks. Journal of the American Dental Association, 131(6), 729-73.


See also: Rehm, J., Room, R.,Graham, K., Monteiro, M. Gmel, G. & C. T. Sempos (September, 2003) The relationship of average volume of alcohol consumption and patterns of drinking to burden of disease: an overview. Addiction, 98 (9)1209+.



Prepared by Charmaine Spencer, (c) 2004 Seeking Solutions: Canadian Community Action on Seniors and Alcohol Issues. Page last updated Monday January 03, 2005

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