It said that if 2,000 non-smoking men and women drank one bottle a wine a week for the rest of their lives, approximately 10 more of the men and 14 more of the women would go on to develop cancer. In addition, the study looked at the lifetime risk of cancer in the general population, which might differ from an individual's cancer risk from either smoking or alcohol, the authors said.
Government guidelines on alcohol consumption advise men and women to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week - the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine (or a bottle and a half of wine).
It's the equivalent of smoking about 10 cigarettes a week for women and five for men, according to the study by BMC Public Health.
"Our study describes the percentage increase of the risk of cancer within the United Kingdom population associated with different levels of alcohol consumption, and is the only study to provide a "cigarette equivalent" in terms of harm", said lead study author Dr Theresa Hydes.
"The overall picture of cancer risk is enormously complex and nuanced, so it's important to keep in mind that this new study is subject to a number of assumptions", she said.
The cancer risks of moderate levels of drinking - calculating the "cigarette-equivalent" The team were able to estimate the risk of cancer linked to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (defined as one bottle of wine per week) and then compared this to the risk of cancer linked to smoking.
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"Smoking kills up to two thirds of its users, and cancer is just one of the many serious health consequences". On an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary. Indeed, studies in both the USA and United Kingdom have found that many people aren't aware of alcohol's link to cancer. "We aimed to answer the question - purely in terms of cancer risk - that is, looking at cancer in isolation from other harms - how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine?" After all, 1 percent or so might not seem so startling when you consider lifetime risk for men and women in the United Kingdom already stands at 50 percent.
The risks for men were equivalent to five cigarettes per week, they added. It highlights that even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of cancer. "If you're a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is stop completely, and you're most likely to be successful using support from your local free stop-smoking service".
"By using a "cigarette equivalent" to show how alcohol affects cancer risk, it conveys the findings in a way well understood by the public and could do a lot to increase public awareness of the link between drinking alcohol and cancer".
A spokeswoman from the Alcohol Information Partnership in the United Kingdom - which is funded by the drinks industry - argued that the conclusions drawn from the study were "both unhelpful and confusing" to the public.
"To make that comparison is misleading and will confuse people who want to enjoy alcohol in moderation".