Alcohol and cancer
National position statement
Alcohol is a known risk factor for cancer. High risk drinking can also cause short- and long-term health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, alcohol dependence, strokes, suicide, injury and car accidents.
There is no evidence from studies in human populations that any alcohol use provides protection against cancer. Alcohol is a significant risk factor for some cancers, particularly those of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, bowel and liver.
In 2018, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare demonstrated that alcohol use contributed to 4.9% of the total cancer burden. Further to this, almost 3,500 (2.8%) of cancer cases in Australia in 2013 were attributed to alcohol use.
Based on this evidence, Cancer Council recommends people limit drinking alcohol. For people who do drink alcohol, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends no more than four standard drinks on any one day and no more than 10 standard drinks per week.
Alcohol pricing and taxation
Recommendations for reducing health harms
Alcohol use was linked to almost 5000 cases of cancer in Australia each year. Increasing the price of alcohol through taxation would be one of the most effective ways to reduce alcohol use and associated health harms, including the development of alcohol-related cancers.
Cancer Council Australia therefore recommends:
- The introduction of volumetric-based excise taxes, to be applied to all alcohol products at the stage of production or implementation, together with abolition of the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET).
- Continuation of the current practice of adjusting the alcohol excise and customs duty every six months, with reference to changes in the Consumer Price Index.
- A proportion of alcohol tax revenue allocated for the purpose of recovering the costs of alcohol-related harm and funding education, harm prevention and alcohol treatment programs, i.e. hypothecation.
- Improved access to wholesale and retail alcohol sales data, an essential indicator of alcohol use levels and patterns, and of the impact of prevention policies and programs.
- Continual monitoring and evaluation of the alcohol taxation system, and research into potential improvements.
- Investigating a public interest case for the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol.
This position statement documents the evidence base for these recommendations.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018. Canberra: AIHW; 2021.
 Wilson LF, Antonsson A, Green AC, Jordan SJ, Kendall BJ, Nagle CM, et al. How many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable? estimates for Australia in 2013. International Journal of Cancer. 2017;142(4):691–701.
Consumer information and labelling of alcohol
This position statement highlights the need for compulsory warning labels on all alcohol products so individuals can be informed that the product they are purchasing and/or using can have a serious impact on their health and wellbeing.
Cancer Council's recommendations are consistent with the recommendations of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, health information and warning labels should be mandatory under the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code.
The introduction of health information and warning labels should be part of a wider alcohol control strategy that includes advertising and sponsorship bans and targeted pricing and taxation measures, in line with the recommendations of the National Preventative Health Taskforce.
Marketing and promotion of alcohol
The marketing and promotion of alcoholic beverages is a global industry, with complex marketing strategies via a mix of television, radio, print advertisement, point of sale marketing, sponsorship, interactive technologies such as mobile phones, internet and email campaigns.
Research in Australia and overseas has provided growing evidence that alcohol marketing influences young people's decisions about drinking and their expectations related to alcohol use.
Cancer Council considers that a two-stage approach should be adopted:
- limit the exposure of alcohol advertising to children
- limit overall the exposure or alcohol advertising to the population.
Find out more about how limiting alcohol can reduce your cancer risk