Posted on Mar 28, 2019, 7 p.m.
Even modest levels of alcohol intake can put people at increased risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer which is the most commonly occurring cancer among women in the UK. Just one bottle of wine a week has been found to increase lifetime risk of cancer by the same amount as smoking 10 cigarettes a week for women and five for men, as published in the journal BMC Public Health.
To raise awareness of the cancer related risks associated with drinking alcohol scientists compared them with smoking. “..study describes the percentage increase of risk of cancer within the UK associated with different levels of alcohol, and is the only study to provide a cigarette equivalent in terms of harm, purely in terms of cancer risk...” says Dr. Theresa Hydes.
According to this study the cigarette equivalent of one bottle of wine per week is suggested to be the equivalent of 5 cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes per week for women; and 3 bottles of wine per week is the equivalent to smoking 8 cigarettes per week for men and 23 cigarettes per week for women.
“This study is not saying drinking alcohol on moderation is equivalent to smoking; rather relates lifetime risk across the population at an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary, impact of ten units of alcohol or 5-10 cigarettes may be different.” explains Hydes. “Estimation of cigarette equivalent for alcohol provides a measure for communicating cancer risks exploiting historical messaging on smoking. Heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowels, liver, and breast, yet in contrast to smoking this is not widely understood by the public. By using cigarettes as comparator it is hoped to communicate this message more effective to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
Drinking alcohol can increase risks for 7 types of cancer: laryngeal, mouth, oesophageal, pharyngeal, breast, bowel, and liver cancers according to Cancer Research UK. Smoking is one of the biggest contributors to cancer, this comparison could be useful to raise awareness of the less well known cancer risk factors such as alcohol, by highlighting even low levels of drinking can increase risks.
Science is clear, the less one drinks the lower the risk of cancer, making small healthy lifestyle changes such as having more alcohol free days can make a big difference. Smoking causes over 4 times as many cases of cancer in the UK than alcohol, best bet if you are a smoker is to quit completely, the local stop smoking service will be happy to provide you with assistance if required.
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