1 in 10 Irish women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and the HSE state that alcohol is responsible for 1 in 8 breast cancers in Ireland. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, take some time to understand alcohol and its impact, and see if you can make small changes to improve your health and wellbeing.
BREAST CANCER FACTS
- Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in Ireland, skin cancer being the most common.
- Every year around 3,244 cases are diagnosed and 723 women die from the disease in Ireland.
- Breast cancer is most common in women from 50 years onwards but it can be diagnosed at a younger age.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is known as a modifiable risk factor for at least seven types of cancer, including breast cancer. This means it is a risk factor we can do something about. While there are many different contributory factors for cancer, there are some positive actions we can take to reduce our own and our family’s cancer risk. This means that by making small changes to our drinking habits, we can help to lower the cancer risk. The HSE advise that the risk of developing these alcohol-related cancers is smaller for people who drink within the HSE weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines.
For women in Ireland, the most important impact from alcohol is in relation to breast cancer. Approximately 12% of all breast cancers (300 cases per year) are associated with alcohol consumption. According to the HSE, compared with a woman who does not drink, a woman who drinks one standard drink per day is associated with a 7% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, while consuming three to six standard drinks per day increases the risk of breast cancer by 41%.
If you would like to know more, the World Cancer Research Fund website has detailed information on the research evidence relating to alcohol and cancer risk.
KNOW THE GUIDELINES
Are you drinking within the HSE low-risk alcohol guidelines? The 2019 Drinkaware Index revealed a critically low awareness of standard drinks and the guidelines, with just 2% of Irish adults knowing this information. Remember, these are guidelines – not a target.
- Less than 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for women, with at least two alcohol-free days
- Less than 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for men, with at least two alcohol-free days
Common examples of one standard drink are a half pint of lager/stout/cider, a 100ml glass of wine or pub measure (35.5ml) of spirits. This means a woman’s weekly guidelines is less than one and a half bottles of wine, which is less than many people think. It takes one hour for the body to process one standard drink but this is only a guide, as there are many different factors that will affect this time.
MAKE SMALL CHANGES TO DRINK LESS
Stuck for ideas? Here are some small steps you could take to drink less alcohol. Remember, everyone’s motivation for drinking less is different so it’s important to choose small steps that work for you.
- Always use a standard drink measure instead of free pouring spirits and wine at home. Order one for free
- Finish one glass before refilling. Topping up your glass makes it harder to track how much you’re drinking.
- Stay out of rounds – you may end up drinking far more than you intended as you are more likely to drink at the pace of the fastest person in the group.
- Set yourself a limit on a night out. If you usually go for an after-work drink on a Friday, why not set a limit on the number of drinks you will have in advance? Keeping this number in mind will help you to keep track and stick to it.
- Alternate each drink with a glass of water to reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol. Keep a jug of water on the table to make this easier.
- Take advantage of the increasingly available low or no-alcohol beer, wine or spirits and swap out your usual drink.
- Ditch the post-work pints. If drinks after work are happening more regularly or you’re finding it harder to get up in the morning after midweek nights out, it could be time to make a change. Read some ways to unwind without alcohol
- Break your habits at home. Having a drink may seem like a nice way to destress after a long day but it can have the opposite effect and lead to drinking more than usual. If your normal night in includes a drink in front of the TV, consider doing something different like going for a walk or try not to keep alcohol in the house.
- If you would like to stop drinking completely, we have some advice to help.