What Do Alcohol & Benzene Have In Common? (Starts With a ‘C’)

FotoFlexer_PhotoalcocancerCancer is one of those rare afflictions that affects everybody.  If you haven’t had it, you know someone who has.  Rates of most types of cancer have risen dramatically in the past 50 years.

Even so, ‘cancer fatigue’ is rampant in this country.  With each new study alerting us to a potential killer in our homes, we grow more apathetic.  But the “everything-causes-cancer-so-why-worry-about-it” attitude is flawed.  Dangerous, even.  While worrying about cancer is a waste of time, burying your head in the sand is also foolish.  Not all carcinogens are created equal.

The list of potential cancer culprits could fill 10 textbooks, so we’ll focus on the most common ones.  Namely, alcohol.  This lengthy Wikipedia page blames alcohol for some 389,100 cancer cases each year (3.6% of all cancers).  Like benzene and asbestos, alcohol is classified as a Group I carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But you’d have to drink a lot to get cancer, right?  Not necessarily.  It appears that, for some people, even modest amounts can raise cancer risk significantly.  Like women, for instance.  Specifically, drinking ups your risk of developing cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, rectum, breast, and liver.  Drink more and the list gets longer.

If you’re looking for someone to blame for this mess, look in the mirror. Unlike the blatant tobacco industry lies that permeated the 20th Century, there is no conspiracy to hide the effects of alcohol from the public.  It’s just that nobody cares.  We perpetrate the lie by treating alcohol as a benign social lubricant rather than the toxic drug it is.  It’s a staple in bars, nightclubs, parties and anywhere else people can be seen having fun.  The writing’s on the wall, but will we take off our blinders long enough to see it?

While less toxic drugs are banned outright, alcohol is openly pushed on the public.  Half-nude women are the new Joe Camel.  In addition to its harmful health effects, alcohol plays a huge role in societal ills like drunk driving, domestic violence, rape and assault.  These harms highlight the glaring hypocrisy of modern drug policy.  If drug scheduling was based on relative harm, alcohol and tobacco would promptly replace marijuana and LSD as Schedule I controlled substances.

Therein lies the hypocrisy.

Other common Group I carcinogens include oral birth control, peanuts, diesel exhaust and–ironically–the chemotherapy drug Tamoxifen.

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