The International Agency for Cancer Research classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen (a known cause of cancer in humans). A 2015 Australian study estimated that 3,208 cancers (2.8% of all cancers) occurring in Australian adults in 2010 could be attributed to alcohol consumption. Cancer was one of the top five causes of alcohol-attributable deaths in Australia in 2005.
From the evidence available, it appears that there is no threshold (or safe limit) of alcohol consumption in relation to cancer risk. The more alcohol consumed over a lifetime, the greater the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers.
Alcohol consumption is a cause of cancers of the breast (post-menopause), mouth, pharynx and larynx, oesophagus, liver and bowel and probably increases the risk of breast (pre-menopause) and stomach. Therefore reducing risky and high-risk alcohol consumption, particularly over the long term, is an important objective for reducing Australia's cancer burden.
There is no evidence for recommending alcohol consumption to protect against cancer. The only evidence that alcohol consumption may have a cancer-protective effect is research showing no more than one standard drink a day may help to protect against pancreatic cancer. However, even low levels of alcohol consumption increase the risk of developing a number of other cancers. In addition, any health benefit that might be gained from low-level drinking can be obtained from other sources, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, that carry no cancer risk.
This chapter of Cancer Council Australia's National Cancer Prevention Policy documents the impact of alcohol-related cancers in Australia, evidence on the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, the public policy context and alcohol control policy interventions. These include policy measures aimed at reducing harmful alcohol consumption in young people. This is because evidence shows that young people who drink at risky or high-risk levels are at higher risk of harmful drinking over the long term, therefore increasing their risk of developing alcohol-related cancers.
It also summarises Cancer Council Australia's recommended, evidence-based policy priorities for reducing Australia’s alcohol-related cancer burden.
Cancer Council Australia recommends that to reduce their risk of cancer, people limit their alcohol consumption. Individuals who choose to drink alcohol should do so within the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines. The less alcohol you consume, the lower your risk of alcohol-related cancers.
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