Life Wellbeing Reduction in alcohol consumption lowers cancer risk: study

Reduction in alcohol consumption lowers cancer risk: study

alcohol cancer risk
New research has found a link between alcohol consumption and head, neck and liver cancer. Photo: Getty
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Reducing alcohol consumption by just one litre a year would lead to fewer cancer deaths across Australia, new research has found.

The study published by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) on Monday offers the first suggestive evidence that a decrease in drinking could reduce the prevalence of liver, head and neck cancer mortality.

It states a reduction would cause a “significant preventive effect” on cancer deaths, particularly among men and Australians aged 50 or above.

And according to CAPR deputy director Dr Michael Livingston there’s a simple solution to reducing your risk – drink less.

“It really is [simple]. When it comes down to it alcohol public health epidemiology is quite simple, across all kinds of problems,” Dr Livingston told The New Daily.

“We’ve known for a while from individual level studies that if you drink more alcohol you put yourself at a higher risk of these kinds of cancer, head and neck cancer and liver cancer.

alcohol cancer risk
Australians consume on average 9.7 litres of alcohol a year. Photo: Getty

“What this study shows is that as a population if we can change the average amount of alcohol that is consumed in the country we will see a reduction in population-level mortality from these cancers.

“Alcohol is a major contributor to Australia’s burden of disease.”

On average, Australians drank 9.7 litres of alcohol per capita in 2016, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Alcohol consumption and liver, pancreatic, head and neck cancers in Australia: Time-series analyses report examined the risk factor of cancer and its relationship with alcohol consumption across genders and age groups across a 20-year period.

It found a one-litre decrease in alcohol consumption at the population level was associated with reductions of 11.6 per cent in males and 7.3 per cent in females’ head and neck cancer deaths.

The results also suggest a 15 per cent reduction of male liver cancer mortality.

However, Dr Livingston said the message of the health risks associated with alcohol are not sinking in for Australians, especially when compared to the risk of cigarettes.

alcohol cancer risk
Australians know the cancerous risks of smoking but not alcohol, Dr Livington said. Photo: Getty

“I think people are aware of some of the risks of alcohol but I think the longer term, less visible risks of things like cancer have not sunk in,” he said.

“I think people haven’t realised that there are these kings of less immediate but just as serious things that take 20 years to develop.

“The public have the message about smoking now, no one would be surprised to discover that smoking causes lung cancer, but people still have no sense that there are risks around liver cancer and head and neck cancer [in relation to alcohol].

“There are lots of these common and deadly diseases that alcohol contributes to that I think we could do more to inform people of.”

The report estimates alcohol was to blame for 6.5 per cent of male and 4.1 per cent of female head and neck cancer deaths between 1968 and 2011.

It also estimated alcohol consumption was responsible for 8.4 per cent of male liver cancer deaths in Australia in the last 50 years.

Lead author CAPR’s Dr Jason Jiang said the findings further highlight the need to bring down Australia’s alcohol consumption levels.

“This study has extended our understanding of the role that alcohol plays with respect to liver, pancreatic, head and neck cancers in Australia, and the importance of addressing the nation’s alcohol consumption levels,” Dr Jiang told AAP.

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