Breast cancer: only one in five Europeans knows the links between the disease and alcohol

Breast cancer: only one in five Europeans knows the links between the disease and alcohol

A very real threat, yet one that has gone under the radar. Barely more than one in five women in Europe know that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer, the European branch of the WHO warned this Friday. A disease representing a “major” health problem on the continent, where 600,000 cases of breast cancer were reported in 2022, a record figure, warns the organization on the occasion of International Women’s Rights Day. “Lack of understanding of this link constitutes a significant obstacle to cancer prevention and a challenge for women’s health across Europe,” she insists.

In detail, “21% of women in 14 European countries are aware of the link between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing breast cancer”, notes in a statement WHO-Europe, which brings together 53 countries and extends to Central Asia. “Awareness is even lower among men: only 10% know of this link,” she is alarmed.

However, this link has long been known by the scientific community: “The biological mechanisms linking alcohol to cancer are well established and supported by decades of evidence from around the world,” the document continues. “For women in Europe, breast cancer is the main cancer caused by alcoholrepresenting 66% of all cases of cancer attributable to alcohol,” notes the UN institution.

“Two small glasses of wine a day”

The biological mechanisms at work are “complex and varied”, but research shows that alcohol notably affects the levels of estrogen, a hormone which plays an “important role” in the development of many breast cancers, which “could partly explain the increased risk”.

Even relatively low alcohol consumption can contribute to increased risk, the WHO has warned. “More than half of breast cancer cases attributable to alcohol in Europe are not due to excessive alcohol consumption, and around a third of new annual cases are due to consumption equivalent to two small glasses of wine per day », Specifies the press release.

It is therefore important to change alcohol consumption habits across Europe, which have not changed since 2010, insisted the organization. The region “has the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world, with one in ten deaths linked to alcohol”, alerted AFP the regional director of the organization, Hans Kluge.

Reducing or limiting our alcohol consumption is a great starting point for reducing harm and prioritizing health,” he added. Beyond these recommendations to consumers, the WHO/Europe considers it “increasingly urgent that governments act immediately” and thus calls for new public policies.

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To prevent cancer risk factors, it “urges countries to put clear warnings on alcohol products, as they already do for tobacco products,” continued Hans Kluge. “Women throughout Europe have the right to know the link between alcohol and cancer, in particular breast cancer,” insists the press release, which notes that “healthier behaviors” would make it possible to avoid “up to ‘to 4 new cases of cancer in 10’.

The study presented by its European branch covered Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. Globally, with 2.3 million cases reported in 2022, breast cancer is the second most frequently detected cancer, according to the WHO.

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