New research suggests that drinking just one bottle of wine* per week poses as much of a cancer risk** as smoking five to 10 cigarettes. 

The study, carried out by a team of researchers from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and the University of Southampton, estimated that if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women each drank one bottle of wine a week across their lifetime, roughly 10 men and 14 women would develop cancer.

The risk is particularly high for women, as drinking one bottle of wine a week increases the absolute lifetime risk of cancer to the same level posed by smoking 10 cigarettes. The research states that this is largely due to the chance of developing breast cancer, which is increased by drinking. 

The risk level varies for men and women

For men, this is slightly lower, with one bottle of wine per week the equivalent of smoking just five cigarettes. The cancer risk here is to do with the chances of developing cancer in the bowel, liver, and oesophagus. 

If that wasn't bad enough, the team also estimated that if 1,000 men and 1,000 women drank three bottles of wine a week, around 19 men and 36 women could develop cancer as a result.

Far from just a casual few glasses of wine with the gang, drinking three bottles of wine per week poses the same cancer risk as roughly eight cigarettes a week for men and 23 cigarettes a week for women.

The study will no doubt come as a shock to many people, as the link between drinking alcohol and cancer is not as clear in people's minds as that between smoking and cancer.

The research team made this point in the journal 'BMC Public Health', writing that the public generally does not view drinking as being as dangerous as smoking when it comes to cancer, although alcohol is directly linked to several different types of cancer. 

This study concerns lifetime risk rather than drinking alcohol in moderation

Dr. Theresa Hydes, who was part of the research team, said: "It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast.

"Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public. We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices."

She made it clear, however, that their study concerns "lifetime risk" of cancer, and does not make any connection between drinking alcohol in moderation and the chances of developing cancer. 

She added: "At an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary and, for many individuals, the impact of 10 units of alcohol (one bottle of wine) or five to 10 cigarettes may be very different."

The story was discussed on RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime which you can listen back to in the video at the top of the page.

** Irish Cancer Society