Cutting alcohol intake 'would prevent 2,600 cancer deaths a year'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Reducing daily alcohol intake could prevent 4,600 deaths every year, including more than 2,600 from cancer, experts from Oxford University have said.

Cutting daily alcohol intake to just over half a unit, or 5g, could reduce deaths from five types of cancer by eight per cent, according to a review published in BMJ Open.

The authors indicate that the Government's current recommended daily limits of three to four units (24-32g) for men and two to three units (16-24g) for women may be too high.

The researchers found that if current drinkers lowered their consumption to just over half a unit of alcohol per day, this would delay or prevent around 4,579 premature deaths - equivalent to three per cent. It would reduce liver cirrhosis deaths by 49 per cent, saving 3,000 lives each year.

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Alcohol is one of the most well-established causes of cancer. Scientists and health organisations around the world agree that reducing the amount of alcohol people drink can reduce deaths from cancer."

She added that as well as cutting down on alcohol, people can reduce the risk of cancer by being a non-smoker, keeping a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, being physically active and enjoying the sun safely.

The study looked at how drinking less would affect death rates from 11 conditions - coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, and five types of cancer. All 11 are known to be at least partly linked to long-term alcohol consumption.

The researchers calculated the impact of changing average alcohol consumption and increasing the proportion of people who do not drink.

They gathered results from a series of studies and used the 2006 General Household Survey to determine weekly alcohol consumption levels among 15,000 adults in England.

According to the survey, almost a third of people were classified as non-drinkers, consuming less than 1g of alcohol per day. Some 170,558 people died from the 11 conditions linked to alcohol in 2006.

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Nichols, M. et al. (2012). What is the optimal level of population alcohol consumption for chronic disease prevention in England? Modelling the impact of changes in average consumption levels BMJ Open, 2 (3) DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000957