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Experts: alcohol may increase cancer risk even within 'sensible' drinking limits

Alcohol consumption may increase the risk of cancer even within "sensible" drinking limits, according to experts.

Half of the Scottish population have three or more lifestyle risks associated with cancer, including smoking, alcohol, diet, weight issues and physical inactivity, a report by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap) said.

Alcohol is an attributable factor in nearly 2,000 new cancer diagnoses a year, with an increased risk of developing breast, head, neck, oesophagus, bowel and liver cancers, according to Shaap.

Shaap was established in 2006 by Scotland's medical royal colleges and faculties amid increasing concerns at the escalation in alcohol-related health damage, evidenced by admissions to accident and emergency and chronic conditions like liver disease and brain damage.

Eight years on, Shaap has found clinicians feel uncomfortable talking about alcohol use with their patients, and awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer is low.

It has produced a guide to help professionals intervene to reduce the risk of cancer.

The guide states: "46% of men and 38% of women drink alcohol at levels higher than current guidelines for sensible alcohol consumption.

"Each year, approximately 6% of new cancer cases (1,948 in 2010) are estimated to be attributable to alcohol consumption.

"Drinking alcohol, even within the limits of current advice on sensible drinking, may increase the risks of alcohol-attributable oral and pharyngeal as well as breast cancer.

"Reducing alcohol consumption to levels within the current guidance for sensible drinking will reduce the risk of developing an alcohol-attributable cancer."

It added: "Public and professional awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer is low in Scotland. Elsewhere in Europe and in North America and Australia, professional and public awareness of cancer risks from alcohol is higher.

"Some clinicians can feel uncomfortable about raising the issue of alcohol consumption with patients.

"However, evidence from many sources suggests that patients are accepting of tactful or empathetic inquiry about aspects of their lifestyle which may have an impact on their health."

Shaap chairman Dr Peter Rice said: "We need to do more to make people aware of the risks associated with alcohol use; even drinking within the current recommended limits may increase your risk of certain types of cancer."

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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