15 Jul 2013

Breast cancer link to alcohol-related deaths

10:34 pm on 15 July 2013

Breast cancer is the leading cause of alcohol-related deaths for women in New Zealand, according to University of Otago researchers.

The Health Promotion Agency on Monday published an assessment of the consequences of drinking alcohol.

The report suggests that more than one in 20 deaths of people under the age of 80 were due to alcohol. It also found 43% of all alcohol-related deaths were because of injuries, while more than 30% were because of cancers.

Researchers used mortality data for 2004 and 2007 and applied to that World Health Organisation methodology to measure the impact of alcohol on the health of New Zealanders.

Professor Jennie Connor from Otago University says alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer by about 10% for every extra drink per day.

"For young women because their baseline risk is so low, it doesn't amount to very many more cases of breast cancer. But amongst middle-aged and older women, where the risk of breast cancer is much higher, it's quite a substantial increase in risk from drinking."

Professor Connor says there is no threshold for the safe consumption of alcohol for many chronic diseases.

Alcohol Health Watch director Rebecca Williams says the report's findings are not surprising. She says it's easy to link alcohol with a road crash or violent incident, but slower harms that take time to take effect can be ignored.

David Porter, a medical oncologist at Auckland Hospital, says the report reinforces the idea that people should be sensible about alcohol consumption.