Health: alcohol is an underestimated risk factor for cancer – knowledge

More than 20,000 new cases of cancer and more than 8,000 deaths from cancer can be traced back to the consumption of alcohol every year. That goes from the “Alcohol Atlas 2022” from the German Cancer Research Center DKFZ.

Colorectal cancer accounts for the largest proportion of alcohol-related cancer cases, at 45 percent. The consumption of alcoholic beverages also promotes the development of cancer in the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver and breast. “Many people are not aware that alcohol is a significant cancer risk factor,” says Katrin Schaller from the DKFZ in Heidelberg.

Overall, according to the report, alcohol consumption is involved in the development of more than 200 diseases, including damage to the nervous system and cardiovascular diseases. For most of these diseases, the risk increases with increasing alcohol consumption.

On average, over 15-year-olds in Germany drink 10.6 liters of pure alcohol per year, slightly more than the European average of 10 liters. Around 16 percent of men and 11 percent of women who drink alcohol weekly consume risky amounts. The threshold for this is 20 grams per day for men and half that for women. Ten grams of wine are contained in an eighth of wine or a glass of sparkling wine, for example.

Advertising for alcohol has hardly been regulated to date

According to the experts, consumption could be reduced by making alcohol more expensive. Currently the alcohol tax is 1303 euros per hectolitre of pure alcohol. Annual revenue from this tax of 3.2 billion euros is offset by direct and indirect costs of 57 billion euros. This results from medical expenses as well as low productivity, absenteeism from work and early retirement. In other countries, a price increase of ten percent pushed consumption down by six percent, as explained by Schaller.

The protection of minors can also be expanded. Young people aged 14 and over are currently allowed to drink wine and beer when accompanied by their parents, and unsupervised from the age of 16. At the age of 18, hard drinks such as rum, schnapps and vodka are added. The cancer societies advocate for a uniform age limit of 18 for the consumption of all types of alcoholic beverages, regardless of whether parents are present.

The experts also see unused levers in advertising; so far there has only been a ban on alcohol advertising in cinemas before 6 p.m. “We urgently demand at least a ban on advertising in the context of sporting events of all kinds,” says Schaller.

Even a small amount of alcohol consumption of up to 12.5 grams of alcohol per day – this roughly corresponds to a small bottle of beer – increases the risk of developing cancer in the mouth and throat, esophagus and breast. “Many years of life in good health are lost through alcohol consumption,” says the atlas. Most alcohol-related deaths occur between the ages of 20 and 50.

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