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People lack awareness of link between alcohol and cancer, survey finds

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i1881 (Published 01 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i1881
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London

Most people do not link the consumption of alcohol with an increased risk of cancer, a report by Cancer Research UK has found.1

In a survey of 2100 adults in England, just 13% of respondents identified cancer when asked, “Which, if any health conditions, do you think can result from drinking too much alcohol?”

The survey also highlighted a lack of understanding of the link between drinking alcohol and the risk of developing certain types of cancer. When asked about seven different cancer types, 80% of respondents said that they thought that alcohol caused liver cancer, but only 18% were aware of alcohol’s link with breast cancer.

The study showed that only one in five people could correctly identify the previous recommended maximum number of units that should not be exceeded in a day, as recommended at the time the survey was carried out, in 2015.

Among drinkers, just one in 10 men (10.8%) and one in seven women (15.2%) correctly identified these recommended limits and used them to track their drinking habits.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, said, “The link between alcohol and cancer is now well established, and it’s not just heavy drinkers who are at risk. This is reflected in the new guidelines issued by the UK’s chief medical officers that stated that the risk of developing a range of illnesses, including cancer, increased with any amount of alcohol you drink.”

In January this year the United Kingdom’s chief medical officers introduced new drinking guidelines,2 which recommended that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread evenly over three days or more. They also recommended that people abstain from alcohol for several days a week.

Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said that the public’s lack of awareness of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer was “extremely concerning.”

Gilmore said, “The chief medical officers have been clear in their new alcohol guideline that there is no level of drinking which can be considered ‘safe’ from these risks. As the CMOs emphasise, the public have a right to know about the link between alcohol and cancer and other health risks, so that they can make an informed choice about their drinking habits.”

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