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Just one premium lager a day, or three alcohol units, can increase cancer risk - MEP

December 8, 2010 11:01 AM

The huge public health challenge to tackle preventable cancers caused by rising alcohol consumption needs more action by the EU and member governments, Lib Dem MEP Liz Lynne said today.

The West Midlands MEP spoke out at a seminar hosted by MEPs Against Cancer at the European Parliament in Brussels, where experts said latest research findings showed alcohol was responsible for up to 6% of fatal cancers, especially in the mouth, throat, oesophagus (or food pipe), bowel and breast.

The large increase in mouth cancers over the last ten years has been linked to the rise in drinking in most European countries. Up to 9,000 cancer deaths in the UK alone each year are believed to be caused by exposure to alcohol.

Liz Lynne MEP, Vice President of MEPs Against Cancer said the event was an important chance to publicise the growing research evidence of a link between even moderate drinking and cancers.

She said: "While many are now aware of the risks of smoking and cancer, research shows the links between drinking alcohol and cancer are still unknown to most people.

"It is a worrying thought that drinking as little as three units of alcohol a day can increase the risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus, breast and bowel cancers.

"That's the amount of alcohol in one pint of many premium lagers or a large glass of wine. And the more you drink the more the risk increases.

"Following the launch of the EU's alcohol strategy in 2006, we do have some initiatives in place which seek to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol, but they didn't look at the link between alcohol consumption and cancer.

"I believe the EU could do more. We need more research, more information campaigns following best practice and to look at whether labelling needs to be improved.

"National Governments should be encouraged to get the message across that alcohol is linked to an increased risk of some forms of cancer."



The MAC meeting highlighted the latest research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on an evaluation of alcoholic beverages and the risks to cancer. Policy implications for both national and European level and actions were considered with examples from the Danish Cancer Society and Eurocare.

Cancer Research charities are warning that regular drinking can increase the risk of cancer at levels far too low to make an average person drunk. Three units a day can increase the risk of mouth, throat, oesophagus or food pipe, breast and bowel cancers. Alcohol along with smoking is now believed to be the leading cause of this form of cancer. The guideline safe drinking levels are lower for women because the liver in women produces less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol, so allowing it to cause more damage.

Liz Lynne MEP has actively supported efforts by health campaigners and charity alliances for a pro-active policy by the EU institutions and member states to beat cancer. Earlier this year Liz Lynne succeeded in winning Parliament's backing for a plan to evaluate universal cancer screening for women across the EU between the ages of 50 and 70. She has supported a number of other European Parliamentary Declarations on the issue.