Alcohol a major cause of cancer

Jennie Connor.
Jennie Connor.
Alcohol is the cause of more than one in 20 deaths of New Zealanders aged under 80 and a major cause of breast cancer, University of Otago research has found.

The study highlighted the ''lesser known'' health effects of alcohol, such as its carcinogenic properties, with breast cancer the leading cause of death from alcohol among women.

The report, by Prof Jennie Connor and Robyn Kydd from the university's department of preventive and social medicine in Dunedin, called ''Alcohol-attributable burden of disease and injury in New Zealand: 2004 and 2007'', found alcohol was the cause of about 800 deaths a year in people under 80.

''This study demonstrates that alcohol consumption is one of the most important risk factors for avoidable mortality and disease in early and middle adulthood, and contributes substantially to loss of good health across the life course,'' Prof Connor said.

The leading cause of alcohol-related deaths overall was injuries (43%), followed by cancer (30.3%), which included breast and bowel cancer.

Split into more specific categories, the leading cause of alcohol deaths for men was road traffic injuries (19.6%), and for women, breast cancer (26.9%).

The report highlighted alcohol's toxic and carcinogenic properties, which many people were not aware of. A message women could take from the report was that reducing alcohol consumption was one of the few known ways to lower the risks of getting breast cancer.

''Every additional drink per day increases your risk by 10%. It's pretty easy to remember, and it's quite a substantial reduction if you reduce your drinking by a drink a day,'' Prof Connor said.

On an individual level, people should cut down on their alcohol consumption, but in the end the Government needed to step in with more regulation.

''You could try and convince people to do that, one person at a time, but that's not going to work. We need to change the way that alcohol is regulated so that consumption goes down.

''All of this is preventable, and without saying nobody should ever drink alcohol again, we can choose how much we want to reduce it.''

Regulation could include increasing the price of alcohol and lowering the drink-driving level.

The report also found that alcohol-related harm was worse among men than women, with the number of alcohol-related deaths for men (537) double the number of deaths among women (265) in 2007. The alcohol death rate for Maori was two and a-half times that of non-Maori.

''In addition to the wide range of physical health conditions included in this study, we need to remember that there are many effects of heavy drinking on communities that are not able to be reflected in studies such as this,'' Prof Connor said.

The report, commissioned by the Alcohol Advisory Council and made with the help of a World Health Organisation group in Toronto, was published yesterday by the Health Promotion Agency.

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