Women ignoring cancer-alcohol risk: study

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  Last updated February 19, 2019 at 11:38 am

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Middle-aged women may be concerned about the effect of alcohol on their weight and lifestyle, but not their cancer risk, shows new research.


Joan Crawford alcohol champagne Grand Hotel

American actress Joan Crawford in the film ‘Grand Hotel’. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Middle-aged women in Australia aren’t getting the message about the proven link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer, a Flinders University researcher says.


At a time when more women aged between 45 and 64 years are drinking, cancer rates in their age bracket also are increasing, the study finds.


“There is a low level of awareness about the established link between alcohol and breast cancer, and some confusion about the risk given the community perception that not all drinkers get breast cancer,” says study lead author Dr Emma Miller, from the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University.


“So it’s really important to understand the patterns and drivers behind drinking behaviour in order to develop policies and interventions that might reduce the increasing burden on the women and our health system.”


Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, accounting for more than 13% of all new cancers and 28% of all cancers diagnosed in women.


Concerned about weight and relationships, not cancer


The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE,  indicates the survey cohort are concerned about the negative impacts on their weight, relationships or lifestyle rather then warnings about an increased risk of cancer.


Dr Miller says the findings in her study suggest targeted messages which address short-terms risk caused by alcohol will have the greatest impact on reducing current consumption levels.


Related: Experts react to alcohol industry concealing cancer links


“Alcohol is firmly entrenched in the fabric of Australian society, providing pleasure and defining the major events in most of our lives,” she says.


“Raising awareness of alcohol-related cancer risk, despite the importance of this, will not be sufficient to counter patterns of consumption.”


The study involved 35 South Australian women, aged between 45 and 64, who have never been diagnosed with cancer. They were interviewed about their personal alcohol consumption, education level and perceived risk of breast cancer .


“It’s interesting that the group were most aware about short-term harms like the impact alcohol has on their weight, mental health, and relationships rather then cancer.”


New approaches needed as women are increasingly targeted


Dr Miller says authorities will have to develop carefully targeted policy and interventions which address short term risks perceived as more important by these women, as they become a larger demographic for the alcohol industry.


“We all want to hear good news about drinking, such as small amounts of red wine may be good for cardiovascular disease, which is a message that’s promoted by the alcohol industry,” Dr Miller says.


“In contrast, information that alcohol is linked to breast cancer is actively suppressed by the industry presumably in order to build the female customer base.


“Our research shows that while more middle aged women are drinking, there are ways of getting the right messages through by focusing on issues important to them. For example, younger people are drinking less so we can look into the reasons behind that and utilise them.”


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