900 diagnosed annually with alcohol-related cancer: HSE

In this European Action on Alcohol Awareness Week, the HSE wants everyone to be aware that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer.

The health authority says the cancer risks from alcohol are “real”, with “robust evidence” showing over one-third of cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes.

The HSE, throughout this week, is highlighting the link between drinking habits early in life and the long-term risk of developing cancer.

Many young people, it was claimed, do not realise that drinking in their teens and 20s increases the risk of cancer in their middle years.

Both duration of drinking and the age at which a person starts drinking are important determinants of risk.

Women in their teens and 20s who drink regularly increase their risk of developing breast cancer by over a third (34%).

However, the Healthy Ireland 2016 survey reported just 16% of females aged 15-24 were aware of the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.

Even fewer young women know that the risk of breast cancer is higher among those who start drinking before their first pregnancy.

In men, alcohol poses the highest risk for mouth, head and neck cancers.

Men who drink more than two or more standard drinks a day are three times more likely to be diagnosed with these cancers, compared to those who do not drink.

Over half of mouth, head and neck cancers diagnosed in Ireland can be associated with alcohol.

For men and women who drink alcohol throughout their lifetime, there is a 49% increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Assistant national director of the HSE’s national cancer control programme, Marie Laffoy said it was essential to get the message out to young people that what they drink now affects their chances of getting cancer in the future.

“Drinking regularly in your teens and 20s does have an effect long-term and this isn’t something you can ignore until you are in your 50s and worry about it then,” said Dr Laffoy.

However, the positive news was that there was something everyone had the power to control — how much they drank. Drinking less lowered the risk of developing cancer.

The health authority believes the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is key to reducing alcohol harm in Ireland by addressing the main drivers of alcohol consumption — price, availability and marketing.

The HSE aims to reduce alcohol consumption by half a litre of pure alcohol per annum so as to reduce alcohol harm.

The bill is currently at the report stage in the Senate. Amendments made at committee stage include the insertion of a warning to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers to be placed on labels on alcohol containers.

Welcoming the alcohol awareness week, Drinkaware said Irish people needed to face up to the very real link between alcohol and cancer.

The chief medical officer at Drinkaware, Liam Twomey, said that as a general practitioner he was increasingly concerned at the lack of awareness among his patients of the “very real connection” between alcohol misuse and a range of cancers.

“We would ask people to review their alcohol consumption, especially as we head into the Christmas season when there are typically more opportunities to binge drink at parties,” said Dr Twomey.

More information is available at askaboutalcohol.ie.

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