Link between alcohol and cancer highlighted in new expert guidance

An updated publication has been launched for health professionals to help intervene to reduce risks.

Link between alcohol and cancer highlighted in new guidance from Scottish health experts iStock

New guidance has been issued by an expert group highlighting the risks between alcohol and cancer.

On Wednesday Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) launched their updated publication ‘Alcohol and Cancer Risks: A Guide for Health Professionals’.

The expert group is a partnership of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health and is based at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 

It provides the authoritative medical and clinical voice on the need to reduce the impact of alcohol-related harm on the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland and the evidence-based approaches to achieve this.

The new guidance, published on Wednesday, updates previous guidance from SHAAP to summarise for health professionals the links between alcohol consumption and cancers. 

It uses the latest data so that health professionals can use opportunities in their work to intervene to reduce risks.

The last time the impact of alcohol consumption in Scotland and the loss to health and life was documented was in 2015, when approximately 6.5% of deaths in Scotland were attributable to alcohol consumption.

Approximately 28% of these alcohol-attributable deaths were due to cancer. 

According to the 2016 UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines, in relation to cancer risk there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. 

The risks associated with cancer start from any level of regular drinking and rise with the amounts of alcohol being consumed.

Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, SHAAP chair said: “There is clear evidence that alcohol increases the risk of developing a multitude of cancer types. Alcohol harm is one of Scotland’s biggest health issues, and healthcare professionals have an opportunity to inform their patients about the risks between alcohol and cancer and thereby reduce the risk that those patients will develop alcohol-related cancers and other alcohol harms.

“This updated guidance provides healthcare professionals with a summary of the relationship between alcohol and cancer, sets out the patterns of alcohol use and harms in Scotland by age, gender and socioeconomic status, and outlines the different avenues for treatment and prevention of harmful or hazardous alcohol use.

“We are hopeful that this publication can act as a tool to help educate healthcare professionals, mitigate the risk of alcohol-attributable cancer, and support those with alcohol-related problems.”

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