On 4th of February, so just three days ago, we issued a press release: It was World Cancer Day.

Alcohol causes cancer#WorldCancerDay 2013

Alcohol causes cancer
#WorldCancerDay 2013

We had the pleasure to work together with UICC, the Union for International Cancer Control and the CEO Cary Adams. In a time when the epidemic of Non-communicable diseases gets more and more attention from decision-makers, we felt it is important to point to a correlation that science know a lot about, after more than 20 years of research. Unfortunately, the broader public and the decision-makers are not so well informed yet about the fact that alcohol is the second biggest risk factor for cancer.

So, here I share with you our press release. Please comment and discuss. This is one of those issue that really can save lives, and as Sven-Olov says, can prevent a lot of suffering.

Four Facts You Need To Know on Today’s World Cancer Day

Science knows about the correlation of cancer and alcohol use since the 1980s. The IARC, (International Agency for Research in Cancer), the WHO’s research body, classifies alcohol since 1988 as causing cancer. But similar awareness among decision-makers and broader public has not caught up until the very recent.  In the meantime a body of evidence has emerged showing how strong the correlation between alcohol use and cancer risk, in fact, is: alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for cancer diseases.
Moreover cancer is not only a public health issue, and not only a ”rich world” problem, but has wide-reaching social, economic, development and Human Rights implications. Simply put: it can wreak havoc on economies.
World Cancer Day is an important opportunity to address and highlight five important facts – which decision-makers and the broader public should get right:

Too few people know the correlation and too many believe alcohol is healthy

A European Union study showed that on average only 36% of the people know about alcohol’s role in cancer. Too many people around the world still believe in the health benefits of alcohol but evidence shows that there is no safe amount of alcohol use. No matter if beer, whine or liquor is used – it’s the alcohol that increases the risk for cancer. Researchers also point out that recommended units for alcohol use are way off the mark. Only one glass of alcohol per year would be risk free consumption.

The more alcohol consumed, the bigger gets the risk for cancer. And really, who would for example use a pill against insomnia or high blood pressure, if they knew it caused cancer at the same time?” says Mr. Sven-Olov Carlsson, President of IOGT International.

Thousands of cancer cases are correlated with alcohol use

The European AMPHORA project, a research project financed by the European Commission, calculates that 136 000 new cases of cancer in EU, yearly, are caused by alcohol use. Even a conservative projection of these findings for other regions in the world makes it clear: Hundreds of thousands of cancer cases around the world are alcohol related.

Cancer will touch us all at some point in our lives. On World Cancer Day, UICC urges everyone to make simple lifestyle changes to reduce their cancer risk and that of their loved ones, ” says Mr. Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

Alcohol is the second biggest risk factor

The IARC estimates (a study in France) that alcohol lies behind 8% of all cases of cancer: 11% in men and 5% in women. After tobacco (18%), alcohol is therefore the second biggest cause of cancer, long before other risk factors infections (3%), physical inactivity, or sunlight.

Just like the activities of the tobacco industry, so do the activities of the global alcohol industry have huge negative consequences for the people in the world. And due to this obvious conflict of interest the alcohol industry should not be part of public health policy processes,” explains Mr. Carlsson.

Policy measures that control and prevent cancer

The global costs of cancer in 2010 were $290 Billion and it is projected that the costs would increase to $458 Billion by 2030, with the current development. Cancer imposes a tremendous burden on low- and middle-income countries: 99% of the cancer patients in those countries die without pain treatment.

Cancer, as one major disease of the Non-communicable disease epidemic (killing 36 millionpeople annually, cancer killing ca. 8 million), can largely be prevented – especially those cancer diseases caused by alcohol use. WHO, World Bank and other acclaimed international bodiespromote measures that are cost-effective and high-impact: ban alcohol marketing, increase the price of alcohol, for example through higher taxes, decrease the availability of alcohol, for example through limiting outlet density and reducing opening hours.

A lot of suffering can be prevented by simple, high-impact and cost effective policy measures, and so we urge decision-makers to make use of them for the benefit of children and families, societal development and economic prosperity,” says Mr. Sven-Olov Carlsson, President of IOGT International.

For further reading:

UICC, World Cancer Day

British Medical Journal 

IARC Monographs

World Bank: Policy Measures

WHO: Facts

WEF: Global Burden of NCDs

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