Alcohol awareness needed to beat cancer

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The research, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, suggests the need to raise awareness around alcohol consumption and cancer risk through policy changes and public health campaigns.

Led by Dr Penny Buykx and Dr Bernadette Ward from the School of Rural Health, the survey of 2,482 people found that only 47 per cent knew that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for cancer.

Dr Buykx said people are getting the message that they can prevent cancer by not smoking and protecting themselves from the sun. However more needs to be done to ensure people think about how much they are drinking and the effect this may have on their health now and in the future.

“If more people reduced their alcohol consumption it would reduce burden of alcohol related cancers,” she said.

Existing evidence suggests drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the breast, bowel, mouth and throat. It’s estimated that up to 6.5 per cent of cancer cases can be attributed to long term drinking. Even low levels of alcohol consumption can place drinkers at an increased risk; and the risk increases with each drink.

Dr Buykx said respondents who weren’t aware of the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, were less supportive of policy interventions. In contrast those surveyed who were aware of the risks backed a range of initiatives to reduce alcohol consumption including pricing, availability, marketing and labelling.

“Levels of support were highest for restricting online alcohol advertising to young people, better information about drinking guidelines on alcohol labels and health warnings on alcohol products,” she said.

“However, there were lower levels of support for policies that would increase price and decrease availability, yet we know that these interventions are more effective at reducing alcohol consumption.”

The results will be used by GPs, health educators and policy advisors to help people reduce their cancer risk.

The Monash University study was run in conjunction with the Cancer Council NSW, the University of Newcastle and the University of Melbourne.

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