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New data on link between alcohol and cancer prompts uncomfortable campaign

Monday 6 July, 2015

Compelling new data released today by the Cancer Council Victoria confirms that regular alcohol consumption over a lifetime significantly increases a person’s risk of mouth and throat cancer, prompting an unsettling awareness campaign urging those who drink to limit their intake to two standard drinks per day.

Researchers from the Cancer Council Victoria and the University of Melbourne, using data from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study{i], which has tracked the drinking habits of 41,000 adults since the early 1990s, found that average lifetime consumption of four or more standard alcoholic drinks per day, more than doubled the risk of mouth and throat cancer, compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, Craig Sinclair, said it was important for people to realise there is a definite link between alcohol and cancer and to correctly assess how much alcohol they are actually consuming.

“The findings of the Cohort study add to the already considerable body of evidence on the link between alcohol and cancer.  Long-term alcohol consumption causes an estimated 2,950 new cancer cases each year in Australia, which to put it into context means about the same number of Australians die from alcohol-related cancers[ii] as from melanoma,” Mr Sinclair said

“Not only is alcohol a risk factor for mouth and throat cancer but it’s also linked to other cancers such as oesophagus, bowel (colon and rectum), liver and female breast. In Victoria in 2010, there were 351 cancer deaths that could be linked to alcohol use.”

A separate online poll[iii] also released today indicates that the majority of Victorians do not understand what constitutes one standard drink and could therefore be underestimating the amount they are drinking; placing themselves at higher risk of cancer.

The online survey revealed nearly half the respondents (46%) felt alcohol made no difference or were not sure if it had any effect on a person’s risk of cancer. Only one in eight (13%) had an accurate understanding of the number of standard drinks in a bottle of wine.

“We are very concerned that people are either not aware of the link or are choosing to ignore it. This concern is compounded when you consider that many Victorians are more often than not, grossly underestimating the amount they are drinking and putting their health at risk without realising it.”

“Our message is clear: If you do choose to drink alcohol of any type, be aware of how much you’re drinking and limit your intake to no more than two standard drinks a day.”

“Any reduction in how much alcohol you drink will help reduce your risk and choosing not to drink at all is the best way to reduce your risk of alcohol related cancers,” said Mr Sinclair.

What constitutes a standard drink?

In Australia, one standard drink is equivalent to a 100ml glass of wine or sparkling wine, a 375ml can of mid-strength beer or one 30ml nip of spirits.

How much is safe to drink?

The Cancer Council recommends people adhere to the National Health and Medical Research Council Australian Guidelines on alcohol consumption, which recommends no more than two standard drinks a day.

Awareness campaign launching today

Drink Less, Live More is a campaign by the Cancer Council which encourages Victorians to limit the amount of alcohol they consume to no more than two standard drinks in a single day, featuring a graphic advertisement showing stains left by the base a bottle of red wine spelling out the word ‘cancer’.

For further information visit


Interviews are available with Craig Sinclair, Head of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, as well as cancer survivors and others who have reduced their alcohol intake.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Peta Dyke on 0498 178 938 or 9514 6409.

[i] Melbourne researchers have recently published the findings of research that has looked at the associations of drinking habits over a lifetime with mouth and throat cancer.

The research is part of the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study (also known as Health2000 and Health2020) which has been tracking the health of more than 41,000 Melbourne residents since the early 1990s. The study looked at the consumption of alcoholic beverages for each decade since the participants started drinking alcohol, to see whether the amounts of alcohol consumed over their lifetime was associated with their chances of developing upper aero-digestive tract (UADT) cancers.

The study found that lifetime alcohol intake was the strongest predictor of whether a person would develop mouth and throat cancer.  For both men and women who had a lifetime average of 40 g or more of alcohol per day (4 standard drinks per day), the risk of developing a UADT cancer was more than doubled compared with those who never drank alcohol.

[ii] Gao C, Ogeil R P, & Lloyd B (2014), Alcohol’s burden of disease in Australia, Canberra: FARE and Vichealth in collaboration with Turning Point. Data used in this report is from 2010.

[iii]The online poll was commissioned by Cancer Council Victoria and conducted by Essential Research. The survey was conducted online from the 6th to 17th May and is based on 527 respondents.