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.
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.
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.
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.
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.