More than a third of the population in Northumberland are ignoring Government health guidelines and drinking at levels which are putting them at greater risk of seven types of cancer.
Almost two in five of the North East’s adults, around 813,000 people, are regularly drinking more than the recommended daily limits. These are two to three units for a woman – no more than a standard 175ml glass of wine – and three to four units for a man, which is a pint of strong lager.
In Northumberland, the percentage of the population drinking above recommended levels is 33.9 per cent, although this is lower than many other parts of the region and the North East average of 39.5 per cent.
Evidence shows that if you regularly drink above the guidelines the risk of developing cancer is higher than non-drinkers.
Men are 1.8 to 2.5 times as likely to get cancer of the mouth, neck and throat, and women are 1.2 to 1.7 times as likely. Women are 1.2 times as likely to get breast cancer. Men are twice as likely to develop liver cirrhosis, and women are 1.7 times as likely. Bowel cancer risk is 21 per cent higher in people who drink around 1.5 to 6 units per day.
However, more than nine in 10 people in the region who regularly drink above the recommended limits believe they are light or moderate drinkers.
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “It’s important for people to realise that it’s not just heavy drinkers at risk, there is no safe level of alcohol and the more a person drinks, the greater the risk.
“For many of us, the idea that alcohol can cause cancer is hard to accept. This comes as no surprise as low alcohol pricing, widespread availability and mass promotion has suggested alcohol is harmless. But it’s not.”
These statistics have led Balance to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and seven cancers – mouth, pharyngeal (upper throat), oesophageal (food pipe), laryngeal (voice box), bowel cancer, breast and liver.
The campaign will see a new hard-hitting advert aired on television screens from today over a four-week period. The advert features a woman enjoying lunch and a glass of wine with her partner when she spills some of her drink on her top. The stain changes to show a growing tumour on her breast.
Colin added: “It’s worrying to learn that so many people in the region are drinking above the recommended limits. This is even more of a concern when you consider the fact that a large majority of high or increasing risk drinkers believe they actually drink at moderate levels.
“It’s easy for us underestimate how much we drink, but by raising awareness of the hidden harms associated with alcohol, we hope to encourage people to think about their intake and, if necessary, cut back to help reduce their risk of cancer.”
Dr Tony Branson, medical director of the Northern England Cancer Network, has supported Balance’s campaign by recording a series of short films explaining how alcohol, which is in the same cancer-causing category as tobacco and asbestos, can cause cancer.
He said: “Alcohol affects our bodies in a number of different ways which can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. It damages cells, changes hormone levels, impacts on existing medical conditions and worsens the damage caused by smoking.
“Balance’s campaign will help inform the public of these risks so they can then assess their consumption and, if appropriate, take steps to reduce how much they drink. I’m happy to support any measures which have the potential to help reduce the number of avoidable cancers here in the region.”