Alcohol has been pegged as a definite risk factor for cancer independent of the amount being consumed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
In a recently released statement, the ASCO says that alcohol use whether light, moderate, or heavy—is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers, including those of the breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck. ASCO has also cited between 5-6 per cent of new cancers and cancer deaths globally as directly attributable to alcohol. The statistics listed by ASCO are concerning because as many as 70 per cent of Americans do not recognize drinking alcohol as a risk factor for cancer. [National Cancer Opinion Survey]
The above survey which was released just last month found that only 38 per cent of Americans were limiting their alcohol intake as a way to reduce their risk for cancer. The survey was scientifically conducted online by Harris Poll from July 10-18, 2017, among 4,016 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. It is believed to accurately represent the broader population of the U.S.
Not only does excessive alcohol consumption cause cancer, but it also can delay or negatively impact cancer treatment. Oncologists are uniquely positioned to identify strategies to help their patients reduce their alcohol use; address racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation disparities that may place these populations at increased cancer risk; and serve as community advisors and leaders to raise the awareness of alcohol as a cancer risk behavior.
In addition to raising awareness of the established link between alcohol and cancer—and thereby the opportunity to reduce cancer risk by limiting how much alcohol is consumed—the statement, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also offers some evidence-based policy recommendations to reduce excessive alcohol consumption:
- Provide alcohol screening and brief interventions in clinical settings
- Regulate alcohol outlet density
- Increase alcohol taxes and prices
- Maintain limits on days and hours of sale
- Enhance enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors
- Restrict youth exposure to advertising of alcoholic beverages
- Resist further privatization of retail alcohol sales in communities with current government control
- Include alcohol control strategies in comprehensive cancer control plans
- Support efforts to eliminate the use of “pinkwashing” to market alcoholic beverages. (i.e., discouraging alcoholic beverage companies from exploiting the color pink or pink ribbons to show a commitment to finding a cure for breast cancer given the evidence that alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer).