Strong link between alcohol and cancer found

Strong link between alcohol and cancer found

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In Ireland we often hear about the link between alcohol and cancer, where roughly 900 new cancers and 500 cancer deaths are attributed to alcohol every year. A new review of existing research appears to confirm this link, finding strong evidence of a direct, harmful effect of drinking, but scientists are unsure why.

Professor Jennie Connor, of the Preventive and Social Medicine department at Otago University in New Zealand said that there is now enough credible evidence to say conclusively that drinking is a direct cause of the disease. Read an abstract of the report.

Alcohol is estimated to have caused about half a million deaths from cancer in 2012, 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide. According to the Irish Cancer Society, alcohol is a contributing factor to seven different types of cancer – mouth and throat, larynx (voicebox), oesophagus (foodpipe), breast, liver, colon and bowel. While people who drink heavily are at the highest risk, the study stresses that even people who drink low levels of alcohol are at risk.

Professor Connor notes that people should not be misled by the supposed health benefits of alcohol which are commonly reported in the media, stating that these are “seen increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers”.

Drinking less alcohol is just one of the ways you can reduce your cancer risk. Here are three things to keep in mind.

Don’t exceed the guidelines

To reduce your risk of developing cancer, and other long-term serious health conditions, you should not exceed the low-risk alcohol guidelines:

  • 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for women, with at least two alcohol-free days
  • 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 beer, small glass of wine (100ml) and pub measure of spirits (35.5ml).

Make small changes to how you drink

The 2015 Healthy Ireland Survey found that 14% of drinkers feel they should cut down on their drinking. Small changes to the way you consume alcohol and how much you drink can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing now and in the future:

  • If you usually drink pints of beer or cider, why not opt for a bottle or half pint instead?
  • When you’re drinking wine, always finish one glass before pouring another. Topping up your glass can make it hard to track how much you are drinking.
  • Alcohol dehydrates the body. Alternating each drink with water will keep you hydrated.
  • Low alcohol wine and beer are now more widely available. Try one out as an alternative to your usual full strength drink.

Read some more quick and easy ways to drink less alcohol

Be aware of the benefits

There are so many different benefits to drinking less alcohol. It is vital to be aware that many serious alcohol-related health risks don’t appear until later in life so how you drink now, can have a major impact on your health and wellbeing in the future. These benefits include improved mental health, having more energy and saving money.

Find out more about the benefits of drinking less alcohol