From National Cancer Control Policy
Alcohol > Overview

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Key policy priorities in summary

  • Reform alcohol pricing policy
    • Introduce a volumetric tax with tax increasing for products with higher alcohol volumes
    • Set a minimum price (or floor price) for alcohol products
    • Re-investment of alcohol tax revenue into prevention programs
    • Integrate access to sales/consumption data into alcohol pricing reform
  • Restrict alcohol advertising and promotion
    • Introduce legislation to ban alcohol advertising and promotion that either appeals, or is connected with content that appeals, to people under 25 in all media
  • Restrict availability of alcohol
  • Enhance public education about alcohol and cancer risk
    • Increase awareness of link between alcohol and cancer

The International Agency for Cancer Research classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known cause of cancer in humans)[1]. An estimated 3,208 cancers (2.8% of all cancers) diagnosed in Australian adults in 2010 were attributed to alcohol use[2]. Cancer was one of the top five causes of alcohol-attributable deaths in Australia in 2015[3].

From the evidence available, it appears that there is no threshold (or safe limit) of alcohol use and cancer risk. The more alcohol used over a lifetime, the greater the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers[4][5][6][7].

Alcohol use is a cause of cancers of the breast (in women), mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, stomach, and bowel[8][9]. Liver cancer was the cause of the greatest cancer burden, due to the high mortality to incidence ratio, from alcohol use in Australia in 2011[10]. Although low-level alcohol use probably decreases the risk of kidney cancer[8], there is no evidence for recommending that drinking alcohol protects against cancer[4]. Therefore reducing high-risk alcohol use, particularly over the long term, is an important objective for reducing Australia's cancer burden.

This chapter of Cancer Council Australia's National Cancer Prevention Policy documents the public policy context and evidence-based policy priorities to reduce harmful alcohol consumption and alcohol-related cancer burden. These include policy measures aimed at reducing harmful alcohol use in young people. This is because evidence shows that young people who drink at high-risk levels are at higher risk of harmful drinking over the long term, therefore increasing their risk of developing alcohol-related cancers[11]. The impact of alcohol-related cancers in Australia and evidence on the links between alcohol use and cancer are also discussed.

Cancer Council Australia recommends that to reduce their risk of cancer, people limit their alcohol use. Individuals who choose to drink alcohol should do so within the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines.The less alcohol consumed, the lower the risk of alcohol-related cancers[4][5][6][7].

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  1. International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume 96. Alcohol consumption and ethyl carbamate. Lyon, France: IARC; 2010 Available from: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol96/mono96.pdf.
  2. Pandeya N, Wilson LF, Webb PM, Neale RE, Bain CJ, Whiteman DC. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of alcohol. Aust N Z J Public Health 2015 Oct;39(5):408-13 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26437723.
  3. Lensvelt, E., Gilmore, W., Liang, W., Sherk, A. and Chikritzhs, T.. Estimated alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia 2004 to 2015. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University; 2018 [cited 2019 Jul 24]. Report No.: Bulletin 16. Available from: https://ndri.curtin.edu.au/ndri/media/documents/naip/naip016.pdf.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Million Women Study Collaborators, Allen NE, Beral V, Casabonne D, Kan SW, Reeves GK, et al. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009 Mar 4;101(5):296-305 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19244173.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, Hamajima N, Hirose K, Tajima K, Rohan T, Calle EE, et al. Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer--collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer 2002 Nov 18;87(11):1234-45 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439712.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Corrao G, Bagnardi V, Zambon A, La Vecchia C. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med 2004 May;38(5):613-9 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066364.
  8. 8.0 8.1 World Cancer Research Fund. Continuous Update Project (CUP) Matrix. London, UK: World Cancer Research Fund; 2018 May Available from: https://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Matrix-for-all-cancers-A3.pdf.
  9. International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume 100E. Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages. Lyon, France: IARC; 2012 [cited 2019 Jul 25] Available from: https://monographs.iarc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono100E-11.pdf.
  10. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books. [homepage on the internet] Canberra: AIHW; 2017 Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/acim-books/.
  11. Pelucchi C, Tramacere I, Boffetta P, Negri E, La Vecchia C. Alcohol consumption and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2011;63(7):983-90 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21864055.

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