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 consumption. 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 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 (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 consumption probably decreases the risk of kidney cancer, there is no evidence for recommending alcohol consumption to protect against cancer. Therefore reducing high-risk alcohol consumption, 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 consumption 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 consumption and cancer are also discussed.
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 consumed, the lower the risk of alcohol-related cancers.
- 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.
- 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 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26437723.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19244173.
- 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 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439712.
- 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 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066364.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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/.
- Pelucchi C, Tramacere I, Boffetta P, Negri E, La Vecchia C. Alcohol consumption and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2011;63(7):983-90 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21864055.