I am in that phase of life where my age puts me at higher risk for breast cancer, and as the mother of two teenage daughters, I am acutely aware of the lifestyle factors that affect their risk for breast and other cancers.
Alcohol is one factor that is giving me an increasing cause for concern. From our own AICR research, I know that there is strong evidence that alcohol is linked to six different cancers and this is supported by research from other authoritative bodies, such as American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and American Cancer Society (ACS).
This in itself is worrying, but what is truly alarming is the perilous rising trend in alcohol consumption and the dangers of binge drinking. This, coupled with a lack of awareness about the alcohol cancer link – over 60% of Americans in our survey were unaware – and the belief that moderate drinking may protect against heart disease – is like a ticking time bomb.
What’s fascinating to me is that the concept of “Dry January”, where people seek to recover from the excesses of the holiday season, is becoming more common. But NOT drinking more regularly throughout the year is less accepted as a societal norm and it can be a conversation stopper when you raise concerns about alcohol being linked with cancer.
But increasingly, this is one of the most important conversations we need to be having – with our family, friends and especially sons and daughters who are reaching the legal drinking age. Young adults are especially vulnerable to aggressive marketing and peer pressure, but they need to know the facts.
For Cancer Prevention Month, AICR is highlighting this issue. Increased drinking levels will lead to more cases of cancer – and the ensuing heartache that brings to those impacted. Talking with a breast cancer survivor last month I was struck by her comments about alcohol – it has no place in a cancer-protective diet – why would anyone take the risk?
Just like other issues that impact our health, such as tobacco, fast food, soda, and the policy dynamics around alcohol – affordability, availability, labeling – are complex and require a multi-dimensional strategy.
In our own communities however, we can and must start the conversation.
Just like campaigns around not smoking, we need to use peer pressure to make not drinking alcohol a more acceptable habit. We tell our children not to smoke because of lung cancer; we need to tell them not to drink because of the risk of six different cancers.
So, this Cancer Prevention Month, please join us to start this conversation. Let’s build awareness and change social expectations around drinking alcohol for social occasions and make it OK to say mine’s a club soda and lime.