A new Australian study has looked at the link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk, finding that for every seven drinks Australians consume per week, their risk of alcohol-related cancer rises by 10%.
Published in the British Journal of Cancer, this is one of the largest investigations into alcohol and it’s influence on cancer in Australia, which according to Financial Review, is even more relevant now due to the increased consumption of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, which took place over five years and analysed data from 226,000 participants, links the consumption of alcohol with seven common cancers including liver, oesophagus, mouth, pharynx, larynx, bowel and breast.
Researchers found that for residents in New South Wales aged over 45, their risk of developing one of these cancers increased by 41% in those considered to be “heavy drinkers”. A heavy drinker was defined as someone who consumed over 28 drinks per week, while a light drinker was someone who drank one to three drinks a week, as reported by Financial Review.
According to Dr Peter Sarich, a post-doctoral research fellow at Cancer Council NSW who led the study, awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer at a community level is relatively low.
“While liver cancer comes first to mind with alcohol, surprisingly the biggest impact – in terms of population – is for breast and bowel cancer,” Dr Sarich said.
Alcohol consumption currently causes roughly 800 breast cancers and 1,300 bowel cancers per year, said Dr Sarich, as well as 175 liver cancers. According to Dr Sarich, for every 100 people having more than 14 drinks per week, approximately five of them will develop cancer due to alcohol by the age of 85. For women, this will most commonly be breast cancer, while men will most likely experience bowel cancer.
The researchers are hoping this data will lead to an increase in government campaigns in order to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer. According to the Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare, roughly one in six Australians exceed 14 drinks per week and of them, around 40% are considered heavy drinkers.
“We often focus on young people and harmful drinking, but this study sheds light on the risks to older Australians, who continue to be more likely to exceed alcohol risk guidelines than their younger counterparts,” Clare Hughes, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s nutrition and physical activity committee, told Financial Review.
“It is important government interventions target this population given evidence that more than half of risky drinkers aged over 50 years in Australia do not perceive their level of drinking to be harmful, and instead identify as light, occasional or social drinkers.”