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Campaign in Estonia: alcohol causes cancer



The Estonian National Institute for Health Development (TAI) and the Health Insurance Fund is launching an awareness campaign called “Alcohol Causes Cancer”

06.06.2024 - Alcohol is a scientifically proven carcinogen. The Estonian National Institute for Health Development (TAI) and the Health Insurance Fund is launching an awareness campaign called “Alcohol Causes Cancer” to increase public awareness of the cancer risk associated with alcohol and to encourage healthier behaviours.


Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, including colorectal, breast, esophageal, liver, oral, pharyngeal, and laryngeal cancers. Each year, alcohol is estimated to cause 260 cancer cases in Estonia. Among women, breast cancer is the most common alcohol-related cancer, while colorectal cancer tops the list for men.


“Research shows that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. In fact, the risk of cancer begins with the first drink and increases with the amount consumed,” explained Anneli Sammel, head of the Department of Drugs and Addictions at TAI. “Many people believe that moderate drinking is risk-free, but unfortunately, alcohol affects health even if the individual does not immediately feel it,” she added.


All cancers arise from genetic errors in one or more cells. These “errors” disrupt normal cell function, potentially leading to uncontrolled cell division and growth, resulting in a malignant tumour or cancer. Studies indicate that ethanol in alcoholic beverages damages DNA in cells, which can trigger this process.


Unfortunately, alcoholic products do not carry appropriate warnings, and public awareness of the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption is low. A study conducted by TAI in 2022 revealed that only 11% of Estonian women recognize the link between alcohol and breast cancer, and only 27% of residents are aware of the connection between alcohol and cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, and colon.


“People have the right to know that alcohol is linked to cancer risk – greater awareness can help them make informed decisions about how often, how much, or whether to drink at all,” said Anneli Sammel. “Alcohol consumption is a lifestyle choice that individuals can control and change. Reducing alcohol consumption in any amount helps decrease the risk of developing cancer,” Sammel added.


It is known that 40% of all cancer cases are preventable. Numerous scientific studies also show that even people with a high genetic risk can reduce their cancer risk by following healthy lifestyle practices. In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it is crucial to monitor one’s health, participate in screenings, and consult a doctor if there are any concerns.


“Although participating in screenings helps detect breast cancer early and even prevent colorectal cancer, individuals can do a lot themselves to avoid cancer suspicion or diagnosis by changing their health behaviors, including reducing alcohol consumption,” emphasized Maria Suurna, head of the screening services at the Health Insurance Fund.


More information about the links between alcohol and cancer can be found on the TAI-managed website alkoinfo.ee (Estonia, June 2024).



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