Few Americans Understand Alcohol’s Effect on Cancer Risk: Survey

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By Cara Murez

Health Day Reporter

FRIDAY, December 2, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Alcohol increases the risk of cancer, but some Americans believe it does the opposite, a new study shows.

Researchers set out to understand people’s awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer, and found that many would benefit from more education on the topic.

“All types of alcoholic beverages, including wine, increase the risk of cancer,” said lead study author William Klein, associate director of the US National Cancer Institute’s behavioral research program. “The results of this study underscore the need to develop interventions to educate the public about the cancer risks of alcohol consumption, particularly in the prevailing context of national dialogue about the purported benefits of wine for heart health.”

Using data from a government survey that included responses from more than 3,800 adults, the researchers analyzed responses to questions such as “How much do you think drinking the following types of alcohol affect cancer risk?” Investigators also asked participants about their own alcohol consumption .

About 31% of participants were aware of the cancer risk for spirits, followed by almost 25% for beer and just over 20% for wine.

Some actually thought alcohol lowered the risk of cancer, including 10% of participants who said wine lowered the risk, 2.2% who thought beer lowered the risk, and 1.7% who said alcohol reduces the risk, as the results showed.

More than 50% of people said they didn’t know the impact of these drinks on cancer risk.

The study also asked participants about heart disease and alcohol. About 39%, 36%, and 25% of US adults said they believe liquor, beer, and wine increase the risk of heart disease.

Older adults were less aware of alcohol’s association with cancer risk. This could be due to longer-standing drinking habits among older adults, said Andrew Seidenberg, who led the study while he was a cancer prevention fellow at the Cancer Institute.

Awareness of alcohol and cancer risk was not associated with alcohol use. Non-drinkers, drinkers, and heavier drinkers all had similar levels of awareness.

According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), between 2013 and 2016, alcohol contributed to an average of more than 75,000 cancer cases and nearly 19,000 cancer deaths per year.

“Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer in the United States, and previous research has shown that most Americans are unaware of this,” Seidenberg said in an AACR news release.

All beverages that contain ethanol increase the risk of cancer, including wine, beer, and spirits. Alcohol consumption has been linked to breast, mouth and colon cancer.

Interventions to educate the public could include mass media campaigns, cancer warning labels, and patient-provider communications, the authors said. Tailored messages could help increase the relevance of the news, Klein noted.

“Educating the public about how alcohol increases the risk of cancer will not only empower consumers to make more informed choices, but can also prevent and reduce excessive alcohol consumption and morbidity and mortality from cancer,” Klein said.

Potential limitations of the study include the unconditional structure of some survey questions, the authors said. Some data was also collected during the pandemic, when many Americans reported drinking more than usual.

The results were published on December 1st Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on the causes of cancer.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, press release, December 1, 2022

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Few Americans Understand Alcohol’s Effect on Cancer Risk: Survey
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