HSE confirms 900 cases of cancer caused by alcohol annually

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Alcohol causes over 900 cancers in Ireland every year, with 500 deaths, according to the HSE National Cancer Control Programme who today, Thursday, February 4th, World Cancer Day, reminded everyone that while there is no safe lower limit of alcohol consumption, the cancer risk can be greatly reduced by drinking less.

From HSE.ie

Stressing that “the more we drink the greater our risk of alcohol related cancer,”   Dr Marie Laffoy, Consultant in Public Health with   the HSE National Cancer Control Programme said that “the cancers caused by alcohol can take many years to develop, so the effect of drinking habits today will be seen well into the future.”

Alcohol is known to cause seven cancers – breast, bowel (colon and rectum), pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and pancreas.    While the highest risk is for head and neck cancer, the greatest impact in Ireland relates to breast and bowel cancer, simply because these are common cancers.

According to Dr Laffoy:   “For women in Ireland, the most important impact from alcohol is in relation to breast cancer. Approximately 12% of all breast cancers (300 cases per year) are associated with alcohol consumption.   For men, the most important impact relates to bowel cancer where around 100 cases are caused by alcohol annually (one in every twelve cases).    Consumption of just one standard drink per day is associated with a seven per cent increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, compared to non drinkers, while consuming three to six standard drinks per day increases the risk of breast cancer by 41%.

“There is a very long lag time between exposure to alcohol and the development of cancer (10-20 years). This is an especially important message for young women in relation to breast cancer risk. New research has shown a clear association between drinking in young women and the risk of developing both benign breast disease and breast cancer in later life. Therefore teenage girls should delay the onset of drinking for as long as possible.”

It has been widely acknowledged that the volume of alcohol consumption in Ireland (eleven litres per person per year) is higher than the European average (nine litres per person per year).

The NCCP stressed however that most alcohol related cancers can be prevented by adhering to Department of Health low-risk drinking guidelines (up to eleven standard alcoholic drinks per week for women and up to seventeen for men). A standard drink is half a pint of beer, a single measure of spirits or a small glass of wine.   Overall in relation to alcohol and cancer risk, Dr Laffoy stated that: “Less is good and none is best of all”.