10:23am Wednesday 16 October 2019

Alcohol affects oesophageal cancer survival rates

Professor David Whiteman, from QIMR’s Cancer Control Group, said that more than three drinks a day, over a lifetime, had an enormous affect on survival rates in oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC).

“It’s another reason to observe moderation in alcohol consumption,” Professor Whiteman said.

“People who drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day are more likely to get this cancer and also more likely to die from this cancer.”

The OSCC study was the biggest of its kind ever undertaken, following 301 Australian patients for, on average, about 6 years. 

Approximately 700 Australians get OSCC each year. It’s known to be caused by alcohol and tobacco use and has a grim prognosis.  Five-year survival is less than 20%. More than half of patients die within a year.

“We already knew that some things are highly predictive of survival: the stage of the tumour and the grade of the tumour,” Professor Whiteman said.

“We wanted to know if there were factors before a person got ill that affected their survival. Things like smoking and alcohol history, height, weight, diet, certain medications.

“Other than clinical characteristics of the tumour, alcohol emerged as the big predictor for poor survival, particularly if a person averaged more than three drinks per day over their lifetime. That was enough to double a person’s risk of dying, compared to other patients with the cancer.”

The study was published in the current issue of The International Journal of Cancer, and was funded by the National health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

QIMR scientists are available for interview.


The Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) is a world leading translational research institute. Our research focuses on cancer, infectious diseases, mental health and a range of complex diseases. Working in close collaboration with clinicians and other research institutes, our aim is to improve health by developing new diagnostics, better treatments and prevention strategies.

For more information about QIMR, visit www.qimr.edu.au


This research project was conducted in QIMR’s Clive Berghofer Cancer Research Centre, a state of the art research facility named in honour of leading Queensland philanthropist, Mr Clive Berghofer AM, in recognition of his contribution to the Institute’s Cancer Research Program.

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