Less Than Third of Americans Aware of Cancer Risk From Alcohol

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

December 05, 2022

Another survey has shown that Americans are largely unaware of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer.

The new findings, from a nationally representative survey that included responses from 3865 adults, show a low awareness of the cancer risk from alcohol, and also that the risk varies by type of drink. Just under a third (31.2%) of respondents thought that consuming liquor/spirits was associated with a risk of cancer, but this fell to 24.9% for drinking beer and even further, to 20.3%, for drinking wine.

In fact, some respondents though the opposite ― that drinking alcohol has health benefits; 10.3% of respondents thought that drinking wine was associated with a decreased cancer risk, while 2.25% thought the same for drinking beer, and 1.7% thought that for drinking liquor.

Most US adults (>50%) reported not knowing how these beverages affected cancer risk, the authors report.

"This study's findings underscore the need to develop interventions for educating the public about the cancer risks of alcohol use, particularly in the prevailing context of national dialogue about the purported heart health benefits of wine," commented senior author William M. P. Klein, PhD, associate director of the National Cancer Institute's Behavioral Research Program, in a statement.

"All types of alcoholic beverages, including wine, increase cancer risk," Klein said.

The findings were published December 1 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

The results echo the findings of a previously national survey reported by Medscape Medical News that also found that the majority of Americans are not aware that alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing a variety of cancers.

In contrast, within the scientific community, there is long-standing and increasing awareness of alcohol consumption as a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer, and there is a growing movement calling for more public health awareness of the link.

Recently, there has been some public support for adding written warnings about the cancer risk from alcohol. A Citizen Petition was filed in 2021, and in August 2022, The New England Journal of Medicine issued a call for new labeling.

Several cancer organizations are petitioning for warnings to be added to alcoholic beverages. The petition is supported by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, all in collaboration with several public health organizations. Proposed labeling would read: "WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers."

Klein and colleagues suggest that public health interventions, including mass media campaigns, cancer warning labels, and patient-provider communications, could help disseminate information about cancer and alcohol. "Educating the public about how alcohol increases cancer risk will not only empower consumers to make more informed decisions but may also prevent and reduce excessive alcohol use, as well as cancer morbidity and mortality," Klein said.

The study was supported by the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published December 1, 2022. Abstract

Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse and an award-winning medical writer who has written for many major news outlets and is a regular contributor to Medscape.

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