The author, Craig Sinclair, is Director of Prevention at the Cancer Council Victoria.
Every day we hear tragic stories linked to alcohol consumption, including road accidents and family violence. But it’s rare we speak about the long-term effects of alcohol, particularly on our health.
Earlier this month, the Cancer Council Victoria released new data on the link between alcohol and cancer and launched a powerful awareness campaign, Drink Less Live More.
It’s now confirmed that drinking more than four standard drinks on average per day doubles the risk of mouth and throat cancer, compared with drinking no alcohol at all. These are the latest findings of the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, a long-term investigation by researchers from the Cancer Council and the University of Melbourne into the drinking habits of over 40,000 Victorian men and women.
While knowledge of a connection between alcohol and cancer isn’t new, the fact we now know the risk is double is compelling. Along with mouth and throat cancers, regular alcohol consumption over a long period is estimated to be the cause of nearly 3000 new cancer cases each year in Australia, including cancers of the oesophagus, bowel, liver and female breast.
The question now is, where to from here?
The Cancer Council has an important role to play in broadening people’s understanding of the facts about alcohol and cancer. Ironically, our first challenge, despite the mounting evidence, is to convince people of the link. A recent online survey by Cancer Council Victoria of 500 Victorian adults revealed nearly half the respondents (46%) felt alcohol made no difference or were not sure if it had any effect on a person’s risk of cancer.
We also need people to understand that you don’t need to drink heavily to be at risk: even moderate consumption may increase a person’s risk. Encouraging people to be more aware of how much they’re actually drinking is also a crucial aim; our online survey also showed that most people don’t understand what constitutes a ‘standard drink’ and are therefore likely to be underestimating the amount they’re consuming.
In Australia, one standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol and is equivalent to a 100ml glass of wine, 275mls of beer or one 30ml nip of spirits. The Cancer Council is not saying people can’t enjoy a drink. Rather, we recommend people consume no more than two standard drinks on any given day to reduce their cancer risk.
We hope our new campaign, Drink Less Live More, will go some way towards achieving these aims. The campaign, which will run online and as a television community service announcement throughout July, features an ad showing stains left by the base of a red wine bottle, spelling the word ‘cancer’. Although it may be uncomfortable for some to watch, it’s time for people to take seriously the ramifications of alcohol consumption on their health.
For further information visit www.drinklesslivemore.com.au
- Craig Sinclair, Director of Prevention at the Cancer Council Victoria.