Hard-hitting campaign warns regular drinking raises risk of breast cancer

The Spot of Lunch campaign.
The Spot of Lunch campaign.

Women are being urged to cut back on their drinking and reduce the risk of breast cancer.

A new survey from Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, has found that fewer than four out of 10 (38%) of North East women are aware of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, despite evidence that any level of regular drinking raises the risks.

It also found that nearly one in five (19%) are drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended limit of no more than 14 units per week to stay 'low risk' from a range of health conditions, including cancer.

Latest figures show one in seven UK females will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but that nearly a quarter of cases (23%) are preventable.

Any level of regular drinking increases the risks. It is estimated drinking two units a day causes one extra woman out of every 50 to develop breast cancer

The North East has higher rates of alcohol-related breast cancer than the average for England. Figures also show that breast cancer accounts for more than one in two alcohol-related cancers for women in the region.

Balance is today relaunching its Spot of Lunch campaign across TV, online and Facebook in a bid to help women across the region make more informed choices.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “Like tobacco, alcohol causes cancer and with breast cancer, evidence is clear there is no ‘safe’ level of drinking. Even relatively low levels of regular alcohol consumption can increase the risk.

“Alcohol is embedded in our culture– we now live in an age of ‘wine o’clock’ on our social media pages and prosecco T-shirts, door signs and cushion covers. It might seem like harmless fun but this sweeps under the carpet the risk to health.

“While we have seen higher awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer in the North East, the fact that fewer than 4/ 10 women were aware of this link is a concern.

“This is not about scaremongering but raising awareness of a risk women have a right to know about. It’s only by making people more aware that they can make informed choices.”

Dr Tony Branson, consultant clinical oncologist, breast cancer specialist and a clinical lead for the Northern Cancer Alliance, said: “Alcohol increases the risk of at least seven different types of cancer, including bowel, mouth, liver and breast cancer. It is in the same cancer-causing category as tobacco and asbestos.

“There are a number of ways alcohol can cause cancer, but alcohol can increase the levels of certain hormones in the body, including oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen can fuel the development of breast cancer.

“Although age and family history are the biggest risk factors, drinking over the recommended levels will significantly raise the risks. Thankfully breast cancer survival is improving and has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK. However – we are also seeing rising rates of diagnosis including more women under 50.”

The four-week campaign aims to further increase awareness, helping people in the North East keep their risks low by encouraging them to drink within the recommended guidelines of 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women.

The campaign film shows a woman enjoying lunch and a glass of wine with her partner when she spills some of the drink on her top. The stain changes to show a growing tumour on her breast.

People are being encouraged to visit the campaign website at www.reducemyrisk.tv for facts and myths, real stories and tips to reduce drinking, including taking more drink-free days with the One You Drink Free Days app.