Calls for increased awareness of alcohol as a cause of cancer
CALLS have been made for more awareness and national action to address the worrying information gap around alcohol as a cause of at least seven different types of cancer.
Balance the North East Alcohol Programme and the Alcohol Health Alliance are urging the government to introduce national health policies which inform the public on the harms of alcohol – such as health warning labels on alcohol products.
It comes as a major advertising campaign launches in the North East of England to raise awareness of alcohol as a direct cause of at least seven different types of cancer, including bowel, breast, mouth and throat cancer, and the risks starting at low levels of drinking.
Significantly the North East is the region with the highest rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths in England. Deaths because of alcohol reached record levels nationally in 2021.
One UK survey in 2018 found as few as one in 10 people were aware that alcohol could cause cancer. This is echoed in a new film from Balance filmed in the North East to accompany the campaign, highlighting people’s shock and surprise at health information about alcohol.
Cancer Research UK  warns that over half a million people in the UK can expect to develop cancer by the year 2040. And around 17,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with an alcohol-related cancer in 2020, or 1 in 25 cases .
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK is a liver physician, who has witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts that alcohol causes to people’s lives, said: “Alcohol causes around 46 new cancer diagnoses every day in the UK. Yet despite this, public awareness of its link to seven types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer, remains worryingly low.
“The video from Balance highlights the need for alcohol products to display health warnings and product information on labels to ensure that consumers are aware of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.
“Campaigns like this one are an important way to help increase public awareness of the dangers associated with drinking, but the Government must act and make it a legal requirement for alcohol products to display drinking guidelines, health warnings and nutritional information clearly. This is a vital public health policy that will help encourage people to make healthier choices when it comes to what they drink. Failing to do so keeps consumers in the dark and damages health.”
The World Health Organisation warned in January there is “no safe amount” of alcohol for health with the risks starting from the first drop  but the risks don’t stop there. Being overweight also puts people who drink alcohol at three times more risk of an alcohol related cancer .
Ailsa Rutter OBE is Director of Fresh and Balance, the North East programme running the “Alcohol Causes Cancer” campaign. She said: “There’s a worrying information gap when it comes to alcohol and cancer. It is a shock for many people to learn alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer – and especially breast and bowel cancer. We all have a right to know this information, which is one of the main reasons why we have launched our campaign.
“The country has seen an increase in alcohol related deaths and alcohol is one of the major risk factors which will contribute to the predicted rise in cancers by 2040. A big concern is that it is people aged 45 and over are likely to be drinking the most, at a time when their cancer risk already increases due to age.
“The North East is showing the leadership and commitment to tackling alcohol harm by running campaigns such as this. But millions of people across the country are drinking enough to store up serious and life-limiting health problems in the future, so it’s vital that they are replicated nationally.”
Alice Wiseman is Director of Public Health for Gateshead and Alcohol and Drugs Lead for the Association of Directors of Public Health. She said: “At a time when cancer prevention is key, this is a positive and important step to prioritise alcohol prevention and launch this campaign in the North East region which sees the worst harms from alcohol.
“Most of us have lost someone to cancer, but unlike smoking we often overlook the risks of alcohol. We don’t see warnings on the bottle or can, and we don’t see national advertising campaigns informing people about the risks. There is every reason for campaigns to be running for alcohol – just like tobacco alcohol is a carcinogen and people often start drinking at relatively young ages.
“Raising awareness through this campaign is a positive step, but not a solution in itself. Alcohol is still far too cheap, far too available and far too heavily promoted and we need a comprehensive, evidence-based alcohol strategy to make a real difference.”
People are encouraged to visit ReduceMyRisk.tv for advice to cut down and to find local alcohol support.
- Alcohol, cancer and obesity: The study of 400,000 adults in Britain looked at increased risk from cancers of the mouth, throat and larynx, oesophagus, liver, bowel, stomach and female breast, and was presented at the European Congress on Obesity. The findings have prompted campaigners to call for more information on calories and risk of cancer on alcohol products, which the vast majority of products fail to do. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20220506/Obesity-plus-alcohol-intake-may-increase-risk-of-developing-alcohol-related-cancer.aspx