Northumberland drinkers raise the risk of booze-related cancers

The new Balance campaign.
The new Balance campaign.

Northumberland drinkers are more likely to be drinking above recommended limits, putting themselves at greater risk of a range of different cancers including mouth, throat, oesophageal and bowel cancer.

That's the warning from Balance as a hard-hitting new campaign launches today, urging people to take action to reduce their risk of seven types of cancer by taking more days off drinking for the sake of their health, family and loved ones.

Sales figures show enough alcohol is being sold in the North East for drinkers to consume 22.3 units per week on average compared to the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance which recommends no more than 14 units.

That compares to the England and Wales average of 20.8 units sold per drinker, potentially putting people in the region at higher risk of seven different cancers, including mouth, throat, oesophagus, breast and bowel.

Alcohol causes nearly a third (30 per cent) of mouth and pharynx (throat) cancers, over a fifth (21 per cent) of oesophageal cancers, more than one in 10 (12 per cent) bowel cancers, nine per cent of liver cancers, 25 per cent of laryngeal cancers and six per cent of breast cancers.

Most recent data shows that nearly a third (32 per cent) of all new cancer cases registered in the North East – some 5,374 in 2015 – were made up of these cancer types.

The latest Chief Medical Officer's drinking guidelines advise no more than 14 units per week to keep health risks low – that’s around six standard glasses of wine or six pints of beer or lager per week.

People are being encouraged to visit to participate in a short quiz about their drinking habits and download free tools like the Days Off app and Drinks Tracker.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: "It is everyone's right to know the fact that regular drinking, even one drink a day, increases your risk of some types of cancer, even if that might feel hard to accept.

"One of the problems is we have very low awareness of the risks. Many people think they are drinking moderately, but are actually in the higher risk category. The recycling bin can show you just how much you are drinking.

“Cutting down on alcohol consumption can reduce people’s risk and it is sometimes easier than you might think. Taking a few days off a week from alcohol can be a really good way to reduce your intake."

Dr Tony Branson, medical director for the North East Cancer Network, said: “Just like tobacco, alcohol is a cause of cancers of the bowel, mouth, throat and oesophagus.

“When we drink, alcohol in our bodies is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde which causes cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage. But public awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer is very low.

"It is very easy for the units to mount up. There is no safe limit but reducing how much you drink can help to reduce the risk.”

Elizabeth Morgan, interim director of public health for Northumberland, said: "We are concerned about the increasing number of people who are being admitted to hospital with alcohol related ill health in Northumberland and I don't think people generally are aware of the links between drinking excessively and cancer. We're also concerned about the impact that harmful drinking is having on families and the wider community in terms of both short term intoxication and long term health problems.

“We are encouraging people in Northumberland to think about how much alcohol they are consuming and to consider ways to cut down if they recognise that they are drinking too much. Taking more days off from alcohol is a really easy and practical way of reducing your intake which can also mean people feel healthier, lose weight and save money.

"Anyone who is worried about their drinking can contact the Northumberland Recovery Partnership for help either directly on 01670 396303, through their GP or another professional.”

The Balance campaign features a new hard-hitting TV advert showing a family and a child worrying about her dad's regular drinking.

The campaign is also being supported by Cancer Research UK.

Fnd Balance on Facebook at and on Twitter @BalanceNE. Tweet using #7cancers