Trends in death certification rates from the five major alcohol related causes of death in Italy (cancers of the mouth or pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, liver and cirrhosis of the liver) were analysed over a period (1955-79) in which per capita alcohol consumption almost trebled. Age standardised mortality from liver cirrhosis almost doubled in males and increased over 70% in females. In males, mortality from cancers of the upper digestive or respiratory tract showed increases of between 27% and 44%, and liver cancer increased by over 100%. In the late 1970s, the four alcohol related cancer sites accounted for about 12% of all cancer deaths in males and 4.5% in females. Mortality from liver cirrhosis alone accounted for 4.8% of all deaths in males (9.2% of manpower years lost) and 2.3% in females (6.3% manpower years lost) in females. These figures were even higher in selected areas of north eastern Italy, where alcohol consumption is greater. In absolute terms, the upward trends observed correspond to about 10,000 excess deaths per year in the late 1970s compared with rates observed two decades earlier and are thus second only to the increase in tobacco related causes of death over the same calendar period.
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