The link between alcohol and cancer has been highlighted in updated guidance for healthcare professionals in Scotland. The guide, published by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), notes that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for several cancers.
Around 6.5% of deaths in Scotland in 2015 (the last time these figures were calculated) were attributable to alcohol consumption, and more than a quarter (28%) of these alcohol attributable deaths were due to cancer, the guidance states. It suggests that healthcare professionals can help to reduce alcohol-related cancer risks by informing patients about the risks of cancer from drinking alcohol, and providing guidance and support to help people reduce how much of it they drink.
Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, SHAAP chairman, said: “There is clear evidence that alcohol increases the risk of developing a multitude of cancer types. Alcohol harm is one of Scotland’s biggest health issues, and healthcare professionals have an opportunity to inform their patients about the risks between alcohol and cancer and thereby reduce the risk that those patients will develop alcohol-related cancers and other alcohol harms.
“This updated guidance provides healthcare professionals with a summary of the relationship between alcohol and cancer, sets out the patterns of alcohol use and harms in Scotland by age, gender and socioeconomic status, and outlines the different avenues for treatment and prevention of harmful or hazardous alcohol use.
“We are hopeful that this publication can act as a tool to help educate healthcare professionals, mitigate the risk of alcohol-attributable cancer, and support those with alcohol-related problems.”
SHAAP is a partnership of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health and is based at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. The guidance notes that male drinkers are twice as likely to drink above the recommended maximum of 14 units a week as female drinkers.
In 2019, levels of drinking which exceeded the recommended weekly limit were 32% for men compared to 16% for women. It also highlighted that average weekly levels of self-reported alcohol consumption tend to be higher in more affluent groups.