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Alcohol and smoking – the latest news

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The world’s largest study of women’s smoking and drinking behaviour has been revealed this week.

Latest news published in the British Medical Journal has stated that a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases by 6% for every extra alcoholic drink consumed on a daily basis.

The report has also stated that smoking, which causes up to a third of all cancers, does not contribute to breast cancer.

The Cancer Research UK estimates that alcohol accounts for around 4% of breast cancers in the developed world and around 2,000 cases each year in the UK alone. They also warn that if women’s alcohol consumption continues to increase this figure is likely to rise.

Separating the effects of tobacco from the effects of alcohol has been extremely difficult in the past due to the fact that many women tend to drink and smoke at the same time. However, the sheer size of the new study allows the researchers to disentangle the two factors and make the most accurate estimates ever of the risks associated with smoking and drinking.

Results from more than 50 studies were combined which included data on around 150,000 women from around the world. Over 23,000 of these women were non-drinkers and looking at this group separately the researchers could see no significant difference between rates of breast cancer in smokers and non-smokers.

‘There has been a great deal of research on whether smoking or alcohol contribute to breast cancer but until now results have been confused’ said Sir Richard Doll, a co-author of the study.

‘For the first time we have undertaken a study large enough and detailed enough to look at the separate effects of tobacco and alcohol reliably. When we did this we found that drinking, but not smoking, increases the risk of breast cancer.’

He added, ‘While breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, survival rates are relatively good. A woman is more likely to die of lung cancer because it is notoriously difficult to treat and lung cancer is dependent on smoking but not drinking.’

Co-author Professor Valerie Beral, of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit says ‘This research tells us there is a definite link between alcohol and breast cancer and the evidence suggests that the more a woman drinks the greater her risk.

‘The impact of drinking on breast cancer is small compared to childbearing factors, but women are drinking more now than they used to and if this pattern continues it is bound to have an impact on the rates of breast cancer in the future.’

Research showed the average alcohol intake for UK women has increased from about 7g to 8g per day in the last decade, but for young women the increase has been greater. Also among women aged between 16 and 24, the proportion drinking more than three drinks per day has doubled from 9% to 18%.

‘Before about 60, breast cancer is a more important cause of death than heart disease. After the age of 65 or so, when the risk of heart disease becomes much greater than the risk of breast cancer, the benefits of moderate drinking are more apparent.’

Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, Sir Paul Nurse says ‘Large studies of this kind are very important for dissecting the complex causes of cancer. This research doesn’t alter our advice on smoking because we already know that it’s dangerous but it does reinforce our advice that excessive drinking can also be hazardous.

‘It seems that women’s attitudes to alcohol are changing and this can only have a negative impact on their health. It’s important that we get the message out to young women that drinking too much is dangerous.’

(Source: British Journal of Cancer)

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Posted On: 22 November, 2002
Modified On: 3 December, 2013


Created by: myVMC