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Mum speaks out to back our alcohol and cancer campaign

Jan Casson - speaking out

Jan Casson - speaking out

Posted 21/07/16

Jan Casson, currently in remission from breast cancer, is lending her support to our campaign highlighting the links between alcohol and at least seven types of cancer, including breast cancer.

Our campaign aims to raise awareness that even relatively low levels of drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer and comes at a time when public awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer remain low.

A recent Cancer Research UK study, carried out by Sheffield University, found only around one in 10 people mentioned cancer when asked which health conditions they thought could result from drinking too much alcohol.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of at least seven different types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, bowel and breast cancer in women.

Most recent data shows that more than one quarter (27%) of all new cancer cases registered in the North East – some 4,200 per year – were made up of these cancer types.

Jan, aged 58 and mum to Lori, 30, from Wallsend, North Tyneside, is the fourth member of her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and saw her mum and sister battle the disease before being diagnosed herself in 2012.

Jan said: “My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s and passed away at 52, when I was just 23. Years later my sister was diagnosed and I supported her through her treatment before she also passed away. Because of that, it was always in my head that breast cancer could come knocking at my door.

“Because the disease had been part of my life for such a long time, I didn’t have that feeling of shock that many people go through when they’re diagnosed. Instead, I had a game plan in my head. I knew I wanted a mastectomy and that I wanted the cancer taking away.”

Jan who has run the London Marathon and Great North Run to raise money in aid of breast cancer charities, underwent a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Her surgery was followed by an intensive course of chemotherapy, a process that just a few years earlier she’d supported her sister through.

The grueling treatment took its toll on Jan’s health, leaving her physically exhausted and affecting the use of her of legs, making walking and running extremely difficult at a time when Jan was determined to keep going with her charity endeavours.

Jan added: “The chemotherapy was just horrible. I lost my hair, but that was the least of my worries compared to the pains in my legs and joints, which were just unbearable. I couldn’t even walk around the local park, let alone run for charity. But I’m not someone who will let something like this beat me, and I pushed myself through.”

Jan, who currently has no signs of the disease, continues to be an active fundraiser for charity Breast Cancer Now through her group Pink on the Tyne, and has a positive outlook on what the future holds, vowing to make the most of every opportunity and look after her health in every way she can, including cutting out alcohol.

Prior to diagnosis, Jan was a light, social drinker who would enjoy the occasional drink with friends, but since her diagnosis she has given up altogether.

Jan said: “At the time I was diagnosed, I didn’t know about the links between alcohol and breast cancer, but before I started my chemotherapy I knew I wanted to give my body the best possible chance and, for me, that meant giving up alcohol altogether.

“Even though I think that my breast cancer is genetic, I don’t ever even want to have one drink. Knowing what I know, I just don’t want to take the risk. If the cancer comes back, I want to be able to say to myself that I’ve done the very best I can to safeguard my health.

“That’s why this Balance campaign is so important. It struck a chord with me as it’s not about telling women to never drink again, it’s about making people aware of this link between alcohol and cancer and providing them with the information so they can make the decision that’s right for them and their health.

“If just one person survives because of me speaking out about what I’ve been through, then everything will have been worth it.”

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “There are many things in life we have no control over, yet we can do something about how much we choose to drink. Our campaign is about making people aware that cutting back on alcohol is one of the few things we can do to lower our risk of cancer.

“People have a right to know that there are very real health risks associated with alcohol, including at least seven types of cancer and over 60 other medical conditions. It’s only by getting this message out that people can then make an informed choice about how much they choose to drink.”

Eluned Hughes, Head of Public Health and Information at Breast Cancer Now said: "We’ve known for some time that regularly drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer, so it's important that women are aware that unfortunately there is no ‘safe’ alcohol limit when it comes to increasing one’s cancer risk.

“While you cannot change some factors that affect your breast cancer risk, such as getting older and family history of the disease, drinking alcohol is a factor you really can do something about.

“It can be difficult to change your lifestyle, but there are some simple ways to make it easier to cut down drinking; limiting the amount of alcohol you drink on any one occasion, drinking more slowly, drinking with food, alternating alcoholic drinks with water and having alcohol free days.”

For more on Pink on the Tyne visit Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PinkontheTyne