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alcohol health alliance uk

Cutting down to reduce the risk

Posted 19/05/11

Earlier this month, the World Cancer Research Fund highlighted that the risk of cancer can be reduced by looking after your health. However, a significant proportion of North Easterners are increasing their chances of the disease by drinking too much, too often – and they’re not even aware of the damage they could be doing.

Every year around 14,200 people are diagnosed with cancer in the North East, and across the UK around 6% of cancer cases can be attributed to alcohol, according to Cancer Research UK. This means around 850 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer in the region each year – and these cases could be prevented.

Jessica Harris, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Recent studies have shown that at least 13,000 cases of cancer in the UK each year are caused by alcohol, but the good news is that the more you cut down on drinking, the more you can reduce the risk of cancer. “

However, a third of people in the North East don’t link alcohol to an increased risk of the disease.

Research also reveals that just over a third of North East drinkers - two in five males and almost a third of females - are consuming at or above the Government’s recommended limits on a daily or almost daily basis. This could be storing up future health problems, including cancer of the mouth, throat and breast.

The limits are 2-3 units a day, or about two small glasses of wine, for a woman and 3-4 units, or about two pints of regular strength beer or lager, for a man.
Colin Shevills, Director at Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “It’s a fact that alcohol increases your risk of cancer. Earlier this year, the British Medical Journal reported that alcohol causes one in 10 of all cancers in men and one in 33 in women. We also know that alcohol is responsible for the majority of mouth cancers.

“Most people who suffer from health problems because of their drinking are not alcoholics or binge drinkers but those who drink every day, or almost every day, over a number of years. Many suffer few immediate consequences, but over time it takes its toll. In the North East, too many of us are drinking more than we should on a regular basis.”

Low levels of awareness of alcoholic units and the recommended limits are a major contributor to this situation.

Research shows that a third of North Easterners believe that it’s acceptable for a woman to drink two glasses of wine five nights a week, when in fact, over time this kind of consumption would place someone at a higher risk of a range of cancers.

For example:

“Fortunately, the risks can be significantly reduced by cutting down the amount we consume,” explained Colin.

Key to reducing consumption is tracking how much alcohol individuals drink.

“It’s easier to stay within the limits when you keep track of how much you are drinking,” Colin added.

“People are often surprised to find out how much they are drinking on a daily or almost daily basis as it is fairly common for us to underestimate how much we consume. Keeping a drinks diary is a perfect way to take stock and is a first step towards living a healthier life.”

Alcohol is responsible for the vast majority of mouth and food pipe cancers and it can also increase the risk of pharyngeal cancer (upper throat), laryngeal cancer (voice box), breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.