Confronting the Alcohol-Cancer Challenge: United for Awareness, Policy, and Research
By Lauri Beekmann,
Executive director, NordAN
March 31, 2023
Uncovering the connection and implementing change for a healthier future
March has been filled with alarming findings and revelations concerning the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. Six articles published on our website this month highlight the need to address alcohol-related cancers as a pressing public health issue. A common underlying theme from these articles is the urgent need to raise public awareness, implement effective alcohol policies, and foster international collaboration to combat this growing health concern.
First, we must recognize that alcohol is a significant modifiable risk factor for cancer. Studies published in Hepatology International and BMC Public Health (Articles 2 and 6) reveal that alcohol consumption is a leading risk factor for liver, cirrhosis, and breast cancer. Additionally, Article From Sip to Risk: Exploring Alcohol's Role in Cancer in Italy highlights the connection between alcohol use and various types of cancer, such as mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagal, colorectal, and breast cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified alcohol as a carcinogenic agent for over three decades, emphasizing the importance of addressing this modifiable risk factor in cancer prevention efforts.
Second, public awareness about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer must be improved. Surveys conducted in Sweden and Ireland reveal significant knowledge gaps among the population, with many individuals unaware of the connection between alcohol use and cancer risk. Targeted public health campaigns focusing on at-risk populations can help bridge this knowledge gap, providing essential information about low-risk alcohol guidelines and the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
Collaborative efforts are also necessary to develop more effective prevention strategies and treatment options. For instance, the study led by Dr Tatsuhiro Shibata of the National Cancer Center in Japan, conducted under the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC-ARGO), highlights the importance of international collaboration in understanding the relationship between alcohol intolerance and aggressive stomach cancer in East Asian populations. This joint effort among various institutions from different countries has not only led to the identification of 75 driver genes and 16 genomic biomarkers for gastric cancer immunotherapy, but it also emphasizes how global research collaborations can contribute to the development of targeted treatments and improved prognosis for patients.
Furthermore, the European-wide campaign "Cancer Prevention Across Europe," which focuses on the European Code Against Cancer, can serve as a platform to address alcohol-related cancer risks on a broader scale. By working together across borders, countries can share knowledge and resources to tackle the issue of alcohol-related cancers more effectively.
Based on the findings from these articles, we propose four action plans:
Implement health warning labels on alcohol products: This measure can help raise public awareness about the connection between alcohol use and cancer risk and promote responsible drinking behaviours.
Develop targeted public health campaigns: Focus on at-risk populations, such as younger female drinkers, to provide essential information about low-risk alcohol guidelines and the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
Encourage international research collaborations: Foster partnerships among institutions and countries to study the link between alcohol consumption and cancer and develop more effective prevention strategies and treatment options.
Strengthen and harmonize alcohol policies: Implement effective alcohol control measures, such as taxation, age limits, and restrictions on alcohol advertising, to reduce the burden of alcohol-related cancers.
In conclusion, addressing the growing burden of alcohol-related cancers requires a multifaceted approach involving public awareness campaigns, policy implementation, and international collaboration. By working together, we can significantly reduce the incidence of these preventable diseases and improve public health.