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Sweden: 85 per cent are unaware that alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer

Ellen Brynskog

17.10.2023 - 85 per cent of Swedes are not aware that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Moreover, few know that even low levels of alcohol consumption increase the risk. This is revealed by a new survey by Novus, released in conjunction with International Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurring in October.

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in Sweden and globally. That's why it's so crucial to spread information and knowledge about breast cancer. We now see that the level of awareness is quite low regarding alcohol being one of the modifiable factors linked to an increased risk. There is no minimum limit for alcohol's harmful effects. Even though the risk increases linearly as consumption rises, the risk of breast cancer already increases with low alcohol consumption. This is something everyone has the right to know," says Ellen Brynskog, representative of the Regional Cancer Centers Collaboration.

The study shows that Swedes' knowledge of the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is low. 85 per cent say they were unaware of the connection. And three out of four do not know that even low consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. However, there is a willingness to change alcohol consumption in light of information about the link between alcohol and breast cancer. One in five women states that, given this knowledge, they would consider changing their alcohol consumption. Six out of ten also believe that more information is needed about alcohol increasing the risk of breast cancer.

"The research is clear. Even low alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing breast cancer. It's essential that healthcare providers inform about the effects of alcohol on health, such as it being a risk factor for breast cancer, and offer the right support to those in need. The study also shows broad support for information campaigns about the connection between alcohol and breast cancer. This is important, especially since alcohol consumption and its link to various cancers, like breast cancer, can be a charged topic," says Ellen Brynskog.

In connection with International Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the link between alcohol and breast cancer is highlighted. This initiative is part of a knowledge-enhancing effort about the link between alcohol and cancer, launched in March of this year, and is supported by various Swedish institutions and organisations.

About the study: The Novus survey was conducted via web interviews in a randomly recruited Sweden panel. The target group was 18-84 year-olds, with 1,147 interviews conducted in total. The survey period was from September 7th to 12th, 2023. The results have been weighted to reflect the general public.

About the knowledge-enhancing initiative to inform about the relationship between alcohol and cancer: In the government's strategy for alcohol, drugs, doping, and tobacco policy (ANDTS-strategy) 2022, it was noted that alcohol, like smoking, is a significant risk factor for cancer. The government expressed that there are strong reasons to prevent cancer cases due to alcohol and that it is necessary to increase knowledge about the relationship between alcohol and cancer.

The government enters into annual agreements with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR) to support the work of improving cancer care and preventing cancer. The basis for these agreements is the national cancer strategy from 2009 and the government's long-term direction for future cancer care from 2018.

The Regional Cancer Centers Collaboration (RCC) was tasked in the 2022 agreement to, together with relevant stakeholders, ensure that the public receives evidence-based information based on the European Code Against Cancer, including information about the significance of alcohol for increased cancer risk. The European Code Against Cancer is an initiative started by the World Health Organization (WHO) and focuses on measures that individuals can take to prevent cancer. One of the measures is to limit alcohol intake.

Based on this, the Regional Cancer Centers Collaboration (RCC), in cooperation with several other Swedish organisations, initiated this knowledge-enhancing initiative to increase understanding of the link between alcohol and cancer.

What the research says: Many people know that alcohol is harmful, but that research also shows that a clear connection between alcohol and cancer is less known. As early as 1988, alcohol was classified as one of the main carcinogens by IARC (WHO's cancer research body).

The risk increase with alcohol consumption is individual, but the risk rises and falls linearly for everyone: the higher the alcohol consumption, the higher the risk of cancer, and vice versa. The connection between alcohol and cancer is strongest when it comes to cancer in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancer. Healthy lifestyles, unfortunately, aren't a guarantee against avoiding cancer. The most common cause of cancer is random gene mutations. However, healthy lifestyles are a way to reduce the risk, and alcohol is a significant modifiable risk factor. The lower the consumption, the lower the risk, and vice versa.

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