You might want to think again about having that third glass of wine on the couch tonight.
Cancer is almost at the top of the list when it comes to alcohol-related killers.
This is according to Alcohol’s burden of disease in Australia, a study published by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and VicHealth on Thursday, which crunched the numbers on the drink’s deadliness.
Cancer is the second-highest cause of alcohol-related deaths for men (25 per cent) and women (31 per cent).
In females, cancer is the most prevalent cause of both premature death and overall disease burden (which counts ill-health, disability and death).
According to the report, five per cent of all cancers in Australia are attributable to long-term alcohol use.
Lead researcher on the report Dr Belinda Lloyd at Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre says very few people know about this link between alcohol and cancer.
“Alcohol plays a significant role across a range of cancers, and this is something that not many people are really aware of,” Dr Lloyd told The New Daily.
Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council, puts alcohol in the top three main causes of cancer, after cigarettes and the sun, in the same “cluster” as obesity and lack of exercise.
Alcohol causes as many cancer deaths as melanoma, according to the Professor.
How much is too much?
According to Professor Olver, the risk “starts from zero and almost increases in a straight line as you increase your consumption”.
But he agrees with the guideline issued by The National Health and Medical Research Council – no more than two standard drinks per day.
“That’s the cut off,” he said. “Once you escalate, that’s the problem.”
The type of alcohol you drink makes no difference, according to the Professor.
How does it cause cancer?
“In other words, if you expose cells to it over time, you’ll start triggering off the genetic changes that cause cancer,” Professor Olver says.
Because it contains a lot of calories, alcohol can also contribute to obesity, itself a risk factor for cancer.
According to previous research cited by the study, drinking 50 grams of alcohol a day may increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 1.4 times.
An increased risk of breast cancer has been identified in women who consume the equivalent of three or more drinks per day compared to those who don’t drink at all.
Those who drink an average 50 grams of alcohol a day may increase their risk of breast cancer by 1.5 times compared to non-drinkers.
Risk may even increase for those who drink as little as 5 grams a day.
Head and neck cancers
Daily consumption of 50 grams of alcohol is linked to 2 to 3 times greater risk of oesophogeal, mouth, nasopharymx and oropharynx cancers.
Alcohol is also strongly linked to liver cancer, although the report notes that quantifying the risk is difficult.
Alcohol could go the way of the cigarette
Cancer Council Australia is currently conducting a study with the University of Adelaide and Flinders University into the impact of health warnings on alcohol labels, similar to those on cigarette packets.
Professor Olver said awareness needs to be raised of alcohol’s harmful, and carcinogenic, side effects, and predicts success in coming decades.
But he admitted: “People might be quite annoyed if there was a warning label across a bottle of Grange.”