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Quit drinking to cut cancer risk: new warnings

More warnings on the link between alcohol and cancer have been in the news… Cancer Council Australia, for one, has revised dramatically upwards its estimate of alcohol’s contribution to new cancer cases and issued its strongest warning yet that people worried by the link should avoid drinking altogether.
New evidence implicating alcohol in the development of bowel and breast cancer meant drinking probably caused about 5.6 per cent of cancers in Australia, or nearly 6 500 of the 115 000 cases expected this year, a review by the council found. This was nearly double the 3.1 per cent figure it nominated in its last assessment, in 2008.

The council’s chief executive, Ian Olver, said the updated calculations revealed breast and bowel cancer accounted for nearly two-thirds of all alcohol-related cancers, overtaking those of the mouth, throat and oesophagus.

”The public really needs to know about it because it’s a modifiable risk factor,” said Professor Olver, calling for awareness campaigns to alert people to the link. ”You might not be able to help your genes but you can make lifestyle choices.”

Professor Olver said public advice should not conflict with the National Health & Medical Research Council’s 2009 recommendation people should drink no more than two standard alcohol units daily, already half the previous safe threshold for men.

But people should also be told there was no evidence of a safe alcohol dose below which cancer-causing effects did not occur – either from direct DNA damage, increased oestrogen levels or excessive weight gain. ”If you want to reduce your cancer risk as far as possible [abstinence] would be the option you have,” he said.

Public advice was especially important, Professor Olver said, because studies that suggested alcohol could protect against heart disease were increasingly being challenged by new findings that people gave up drinking when they became ill or old – meaning any potential benefits of moderate alcohol use for cardiovascular health had probably been oversold.

Western Australia last year began screening government-funded advertisements about the link between cancer and alcohol and Victoria is understood to be about to start.

UK: Alcohol ’causes 13 000 cancer cases a year’

Alcohol causes about 13 000 cancers a year in Britain, according to a pan-European study published recently (FRI) in the British Medical Journal. It causes about 9 000 cases in men – about eight per cent of cases in males – and about 4 000 in women – about three per cent.

A team of researchers found that most of these cases were caused by people drinking more than the recommended daily limits for alcohol, although even drinking small amounts added to the risk of some cancers developing.

In Britain alcohol causes about 6 000 cancers of the mouth (oesophagus, trachea and pharynx) and 3 000 bowel cancers and 2 500 breast cancers.

The study looked at the incidence of cancer in more than 350 000 Europeans between 1992 and 2000, who were asked about their alcohol consumption.

Naomi Allen, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist based at Oxford University, said: “This research supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts.”

She warned: “The results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about 10 years ago. People are drinking even more now than then and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future.”

Sara Hiom, director of health information at the charity, added: “Many people just don’t know that drinking alcohol can increase their cancer risk.”

Sources: Sydney Morning Herald; The Telegraph

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