Alcohol remains a major risk factor for breast cancer

It causes seven out of every 100 cases - WHO

Deborah Condon

October 21, 2021

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  • Over 1,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Europe and alcohol consumption remains one of the major modifiable risk factors for this disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

    The WHO European Region is made up of 53 countries and breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer there, with 1,579 women diagnosed every day.

    According to the WHO, alcohol consumption causes seven out of every 100 new cases of the disease in the region. Estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicate that in 2020, alcohol consumption was responsible for almost 40,000 new cases of breast cancer there.

    The same data shows that breast cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. Over two million new cases were estimated in 2020 and about 100,000 of these were attributable to alcohol consumption.

    “Many people, including women, are not aware that breast cancer is the most common cancer caused by alcohol among women globally. People need to know that by reducing alcohol consumption they can reduce their risk of getting cancer. It doesn’t matter what type, quality or price alcohol is,” commented Dr Marilys Corbex, a senior technical officer on non-communicable diseases with WHO/Europe.

    Alcohol is classified as a group 1 human carcinogen by IARC. It is causally linked to seven types of cancer – breast, oral cavity (mouth), pharynx (throat), oesophagus (gullet), liver, larynx (voice box) and colorectum (large intestine and rectum).

    The WHO noted that the risk of breast cancer increases with each unit of alcohol consumed per day. More than 10% of alcohol-attributable cancer cases in the WHO European Region are as a result of drinking just one bottle of beer (500ml) or two small glasses of wine (100ml each) every day.

    With breast cancer, this risk is even higher, with 25% of alcohol-attributable breast cancer cases in the European region being caused by this amount.

    “Simply put, alcohol is toxic. It harms every organ while it passes through the body. So it makes perfect sense to limit the amount of consumed alcohol, to find ways to replace alcohol with other beverages and to adopt nationwide policies that help to reduce alcohol consumption,” commented Dr Carina Ferreira Borges, acting director for non-communicable diseases and programme manager for alcohol and illicit drugs at WHO/Europe.

    For more information on alcohol and cancer in the WHO European Region, click here.

    © Medmedia Publications/MedMedia News 2021