Doctors warn of dangers of alcohol causing cancer

Dr Gillan: Minimum pricing 'critical' to saving lives
Dr Gillan: Minimum pricing 'critical' to saving lives
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THE dangers of alcohol causing cancer is a problem “hiding in plain sight”, researchers have warned.

A study said the public did not always fully understand the effect drinking alcohol could have on their likelihood of developing cancer.

The research also showed that even the medical profession failed to highlight fully the dangers of heavy consumption to try to tackle the problem.

Estimates show that alcohol is responsible for around four per cent of cancers in the UK – around 12,500 cases each year, or 35 every day.

Alcohol has been linked to cancers including breast, liver, bowel and oral. For the latest study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers set out to examine the rate of cancer-related deaths linked to alcohol in the US.

Timothy Naimi, from the Department of Medicine at Boston University, and colleagues analysed recent data on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality.

They found that alcohol led to around 20,000 cancer deaths annually – amounting to around 3.5 per cent of all cancer deaths in the US.

Breast cancer was the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women – amounting to around 6,000 deaths a year or 15 per cent of all breast cancer deaths.

The researchers also found that cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus were common causes of alcohol-linked cancer deaths in men, leading to around 6,000 deaths a year.

The study revealed that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost. The researchers also found that, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher risk of cancer, average consumption of 1.5 drinks a day or less accounted for 30 per cent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

Dr Naimi said: “The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains under-emphasised even by physicians.

“Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”

The most recent figures for Scotland showed there were 1,247 alcohol-related deaths in 2011.

The General Register Office for Scotland said that the number of alcohol-related deaths was relatively stable – at around 600 per year – during the 1980s, but then rose rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s, to around 1,500 per year in the mid-2000s. The figure of 1,546 in 2006 was the largest so far recorded.

The Scottish Government has pledged to tackle alcohol-related harm with measures such as the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol. However, legislation has been held up by a legal case brought by the alcohol industry.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said last year a pan-European study had shown that between one-fifth and one-quarter of all alcohol-related deaths among 15 to 64-year-olds were from cancer. “Evidence tells us that the more alcohol someone drinks, the more their cancer risk increases,” she said.

“But even quite small amounts of alcohol, around one drink a day, can increase cancer risk and expert reports have concluded that there is no lower limit of alcohol drinking where cancer risk isn’t increased.

“We know the best way to reduce the current high levels of health and social harm caused by alcohol is to increase price and reduce availability.

“Policies such as minimum pricing are critical to saving lives. For the health and well-being of the people of Scotland, we would urge the global alcohol industry to drop their current court action which will delay the implementation of this critical piece of public health legislation.”