Low awareness of alcohol link to breast cancer

Over 350 cases a year caused by drinking
  • Deborah Condon

The link between alcohol and breast cancer is well established but public awareness of this remains low, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has warned.

According to the charity, every year in Ireland, around 900 new cancers and 500 cancer deaths can be attributed to alcohol use and the risk is particularly strong when it comes to breast cancer.

"There is widespread scientific evidence of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, but little public awareness of it. In 2013, in Ireland, 12% of breast cancers were caused by alcohol - that's 353 cases a year. In the same year, 69 women died from breast cancer caused by alcohol," explained the ICS's head of services and advocacy, Donal Buggy.

Alcohol is classified as a group one carcinogen (cancer causing agent) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and is known to cause a number of cancers, including breast, mouth, oesophagus, liver and pancreatic cancer.

A 2013 study published in the Irish Medical Journal found that between 2001 and 2011, almost 10,000 cases of cancer were attributable to alcohol. Some 6.7% of all male cancer deaths and 4.6% of female cancer deaths during this period were attributable to the disease.

When it came to breast cancer, between 2001 and 2010, over 3,000 cases of the disease - 12% of all breast cancers - were found to be caused by alcohol. Of the more than 6,600 women who died of breast cancer during this period, 695 (10%) were attributable to alcohol.

In response to this, the ICS is calling on politicians to implement the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 as soon as possible.

The Bill includes measures such as health labeling of alcohol products, minimum unit pricing for retail alcohol products and regulations for the marketing and advertising of alcohol.

"People are simply not aware of the cancer risk associated with drinking alcohol and we need to ensure they are presented with the facts. For every one standard drink a day you drink, there is a 7% increase in breast cancer. If you drink three to six standards drinks a day, you increase the risk by 41%.

"The message is to drink less. Of the 900 new cancers each year related to alcohol, half of them could be prevented if people drank within the Department of Health's guidelines," Mr Buggy added.

For more information on cancer and the ICS, click here


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