Key policy priorities in summary
The International Agency for Cancer Research classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known cause of cancer in humans). An estimated 3,208 cancers (2.8% of all cancers) diagnosed in Australian adults in 2010 were attributed to alcohol use. Cancer was one of the top five causes of alcohol-attributable deaths in Australia in 2015.
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.
Alcohol use is a cause of cancers of the breast (in women), mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, stomach, and bowel. 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. Although low-level alcohol use probably decreases the risk of kidney cancer, there is no evidence for recommending that drinking alcohol protects against cancer. 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. 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.
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