Alcohol and cancer
Alcohol is a known risk factor for cancer. Heavy alcohol use 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 consumption 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 2015 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that around 4.5% % of all cancers are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia.
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 two standard drinks a day (no more than 10 per week and no more than four on any one occasion).
Alcohol and cancer risk
Alcohol use is widespread in Australia and has had a dominant role in defining Australian culture for more than 200 years. However, it is also an important cause of illness, injury and death, whether resulting from short-term episodes of intoxication or from long-term, chronic use. In 2015, an Australian study estimated that 3208 cancers (2.8% of all cancers) diagnosed in Australian adults in 2010 could be attributed to alcohol consumption.
Addressing the health and social damage resulting from risky drinking is one of the three key priority areas identified by the Australian National Preventative Health Taskforce.
In this position statement, Cancer Council Australia provides a brief overview of the evidence concerning alcohol use and cancer, and gives its current recommendations regarding alcohol consumption.
Alcohol pricing and taxation
Recommendations for reducing health harms
Alcohol consumption is linked to more than 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 consumption 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 consumption 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.
Consumer information and labelling of alcohol
This position statement highlights the need for compulsory warning labels on all alcohol products so consumers can be informed that the product they are purchasing and/or consuming 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