Think that nightly glass of wine isn't doing you any harm? This research may surprise you.
Everyone knows tobacco is a deadly carcinogen, but how many of us realise that alcohol is considered a potential cause of cancer? Startling new research shows that just one drink a day can drastically increase your risk of cancer.
Those who drink seven or more standard drinks a week are almost three
times as likely to get cancer of the oesophagus as those who drink less
than one drink a week. Even those consuming one to six drinks a week are
67 per cent more likely to get stomach cancer
than those who have less than one drink a week, according to the study
of 3571 Canadian men published in the journal Cancer Detection And
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver warns that there is
no totally safe level of drinking. He says it's only fairly recently
that scientists have discovered that alcohol is a risk factor for some
of the most common cancers, including bowel and breast, and not just the
rarer forms, such as mouth cancers. "That makes it a risk factor for a
far greater proportion of the population," Professor Olver says.
"Once you start getting into the common cancers, everyone has to
understand that alcohol is a risk." Think you're not at risk because you
only drink wine? Professor Robin Room, acting director of Turning Point
Alcohol and Drug Centre in Melbourne, says growing evidence suggests
that wine is no different from other forms of alcohol.
Almost 3000 Australians were diagnosed with cancer caused by
excessive consumption of alcohol in 2005. More women than men are
victims and the numbers appear to be rising. Paula Green*, 54, a mother
of twins from NSW, gave up alcohol 21 years ago after drinking heavily
for about 20 years. She was shocked to be diagnosed with breast cancer
in 2003, and even more so when she learned that alcohol is a key factor
in the disease. "I was pretty horrified - I realised that things could
have been so different," says Green, who is recovering from her battle
with booze with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I think alcohol was one of many factors [that caused the breast
cancer], but a very important one. I gave up drinking because I was
concerned about the health effects, but I didn't realise until after I
was diagnosed that alcohol is actually a trigger for breast cancer."
Alcohol has been estimated to cause between three and 12 per cent of
breast cancer cases. The Canadian study emphasises that the more you
drink, the greater your risk of developing cancer is.
That's of grave concern, because binge drinking is rising in
Australia, particularly among young women. One alarming study by Turning
Point found that the rate of alcohol-induced hospital admissions among
women in Victoria aged 18 to 24 almost doubled from 1998 to 2006. And
the really bad news for women? Drinking the same number of drinks per
day as a man carries a much greater health risk.
If a man and women both down 10 drinks a day, the woman is far more
likely to fall victim to cancer or liver cirrhosis, because of
physiological differences between the genders, including different
fat-to-water ratios. "Don't assume you can drink as much as a man,"
warns Professor Ann Roche, director of the National Centre for Education
and Training on Addiction at Flinders University in Adelaide. "We
simply cannot metabolise alcohol as effectively as men."
On the flipside, light drinking may protect against cardiovascular
disease. But you only need half a standard drink a day, or one every
second day, and experts say very few people drink so little. "If you
really are sticking to only a glass of wine a night, at this point the
best guess is that the benefits with respect to heart disease will
outweigh the risks from cancer," Professor Room says. But Professor
Olver warns that drinkers need to understand that any alcohol is doing
some harm. "People have got to know that although with one glass a day
the harm is fairly minimal, it's not zero."
- Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org.au
- Cancer Council Australia: 13 11 20, www.cancer.org.au
Alcohol is a risk factor for:
- Cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, bowel, liver, pancreas, stomach, lung, prostate.
- Liver cirrhosis.
- Cardiovascular disease.
What are you risking?Increases risk of lip, oral and pharyngeal cancers
MEN .... WOMEN
1 DRINK A DAY ....... 31% ..... 33%
2 DRINKS A DAY .... 67% ..... 72%
3 DRINKS A DAY .... 108% ... 118%
6 DRINKS A DAY .... 253% ... 288%
10 DRINKS A DAY ... 457% ... 551%
MEN .... WOMEN
1 DRINK A DAY ....... 21% ..... 32%
2 DRINKS A DAY .... 45% ..... 73%
3 DRINKS A DAY .... 72% ..... 125%
6 DRINKS A DAY .... 171% ... 364%
10 DRINKS A DAY ... 338% ... 969%
1 DRINK A DAY ....... 8%
2 DRINKS A DAY .... 17%
3 DRINKS A DAY .... 26%
6 DRINKS A DAY .... 58%
10 DRINKS A DAY ... 115%