Alert for Ireland on cancers driven by alcohol

Alert for Ireland on cancers driven by alcohol

Between five and 10 individuals per 100,000 people in Ireland are developing cancer every year as a result of their alcohol use, according to the World Health Organisation. File picture

Between five and 10 individuals per 100,000 people in Ireland are developing cancer every year as a result of their alcohol use, according to the World Health Organisation.

It places Ireland on the second of four tiers in Europe for incidence of “alcohol-attributable cancers”.

A statement from the World Health Organisation European Region says there is “no safe level of alcohol consumption for cancer” and that all types of alcohol are linked to it.

It says the WHO European region has the highest rate of new breast cancer diagnoses compared to any of the other WHO regions.

The WHO said that, according to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in 2020, alcohol consumption was responsible for almost 40 000 new breast cancer cases in the region.

“Many people, including women, are not aware that breast cancer is the most common cancer caused by alcohol among women globally. People need to know that by reducing alcohol consumption they can reduce their risk of getting cancer,” says Dr Marilys Corbex, senior technical officer for noncommunicable diseases at WHO/Europe.

Figures published by the WHO show a wide variation in alcohol-attributable cancer rates across the 53 countries in the WHO European region.

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for cancer and all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, are linked to cancer, regardless of their quality and price. File  picture
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for cancer and all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, are linked to cancer, regardless of their quality and price. File  picture

The rates range from less than two per 100,000 to as high as 20 per 100,000, seen in countries like Hungary and Romania.

Figures show that seven countries are in this top band, with rates higher than 15 per 100,000 people. Ireland lies in the second tier, of rates between five and 10 per 100,000, along with up to 20 other countries.

'Simply put, alcohol is toxic'

“Simply put, alcohol is toxic,” said Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting director for noncommunicable diseases and programme manager for alcohol and illicit drugs at WHO/Europe.

It harms every organ while it passes through the body. So, it makes perfect sense to limit the amount of consumed alcohol, to find ways to replace alcohol with other beverages and to adopt national policies that help reduce alcohol consumption.” 

The WHO said health warnings on alcoholic beverages would raise awareness and inform consumers.

“There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for cancer and all types of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits, are linked to cancer, regardless of their quality and price,” the WHO said. 

"The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed.” 

Eunan McKinney of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “The crucial observation by the WHO is that there is no safe level of alcohol use – the cancer risk starts to increase even with low levels of alcohol use.” 

He said a “major challenge” for public health practitioners was for citizens to understand this risk.

“This is why it is so important that the advertising/labelling provisions enacted, but not yet commenced by the Minister for Health, within the 2018 Public Health Alcohol Act, are introduced," he said.

"This affords citizens the 'Right To Know' the risk and ensures that, in the future, every alcohol product label and advertisement informs the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers.” 

He said the Government, as recently as last week in the Dáil, recognised this link but declined to state when this provision would be commenced.

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