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Alcohol seems to lower risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Tue Jun 7, 2005

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Drinking alcohol may reduce the risk of developing cancers of the lymphatic system, researchers said Tuesday.

An analysis of nine studies involving 15,000 people from the United States, Britain, Sweden and Italy showed that people who drank alcohol had about a 27-percent lower chance of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) than non-drinkers.

"Our pooled analysis of alcohol consumption and NHL risk suggests that people who drink alcoholic beverages have a lower risk of NHL than those who do not," said Dr. Lindsay Morton of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States.

Drinking alcohol raises the odds of several cancers, but drinkers had a lower risk of NHL regardless of the type of alcohol, the amount they consumed or how long they had been drinking.

"We think this is a new kind of clue that might give us a handle on the biology of the illness," study co-author Patricia Hartage, who is also with the NIH, said in an interview. "For us this is a real window on what might influence non-Hodgkin lymphoma."

There are 20 different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. People older than 50 and those with a suppressed immune system have a higher risk of developing the illness.

Cases of NHL have risen worldwide in the past few decades.

The researchers studied 6,500 patients with NHL and 8,600 healthy people. They found that a family history of NHL, age, sex, and a history of smoking did not change the effect of alcohol on the illness.

"We don't know whether other lifestyle factors or...true effects of alcohol on the immune system explain the association," Morton said.

Alcohol had the biggest impact on Burkitt's lymphoma, according to the analysis, published in The Lancet Oncology, with drinkers' risk of developing the cancer about half that of non-drinkers.

Studies have suggested that antioxidants in the skin of grapes reduce the risk of NHL particularly in red wine drinkers. But the researchers said their findings did not show any difference between drinkers of white and red wine.

They also called for further studies to confirm their findings.

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