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Limiting alcohol could prevent almost 30,000 cancer cases

QIMR Berghofer research has shown nearly 30,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in Australia over the next 25 years if everyone stuck to the government’s alcohol guidelines of no more than two standard drinks per day.

Lead researcher and the head of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Cancer Control group, Professor David Whiteman, said even more cases of cancer could be avoided if people stopped drinking entirely.

“We examined a number of different scenarios to determine what effect changes in drinking would have on the number of people presenting with alcohol-related cancers,” Professor Whiteman said.

“It’s been well established in past studies that alcohol is a risk factor in cancer, particularly in those of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, bowel and liver.

“We looked at cancer incidence data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, together with alcohol consumption data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and up-to-date risk estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund to model the possible effects of reducing alcohol consumption.

“Our study found changes in alcohol consumption would have the biggest impact on bowel cancer, with more than 16,000 potentially preventable cases and then breast cancer, where just over 4,000 cases could be prevented.”

Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee Chair, Clare Hughes, said the research findings highlighted the need for Australians to moderate their alcohol intake over the festive season.

“The festive season is synonymous with sharing a drink with friends and approximately 80 per cent of Australians consume alcohol,” Ms Hughes said.

“What many people don’t realise is that when looking at cancer risk, there is actually no safe limit of alcohol consumption. In fact, the more alcohol consumed over a lifetime, the greater the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers.

“If we can help more people to understand the potential long-term harms of consuming alcohol, even in small amounts, it has the potential to save many lives.

“If you do choose to drink, limit your intake to no more than two standard drinks a day and have some alcohol-free days.”

National Health and Medical Research Council alcohol guidelines recommend that healthy Australians consume no more than two standard drinks per day (equivalent to 20g of alcohol per day).

The study was partially funded by Cancer Council Australia.

The research findings are published in the International Journal of Cancer.