Almost nine in 10 people do not associate drinking alcohol with an increased risk of cancer, according to a new report co-lead by researchers at The University of Sheffield.
Drinking has been linked to a heightened risk of several different types of cancer but the majority of people do not link the disease with consuming alcohol, Cancer Research UK said.
When people were asked which health conditions can result from drinking too much alcohol, 87 per cent did not mention cancer.
This is despite the fact that drinking has been linked to liver, breast, bowel, mouth, throat, oesophageal and laryngeal cancers.
Public awareness remains ‘worryingly low’, A University of Sheffield lead researcher said.
The poll of more than 2,100 adults in England found that many could not identify the maximum recommended daily amounts of alcohol.
The news comes ahead of a consultation closing on how new drinking guidelines proposed by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers are communicated.
The guidance, issued in January, said no level of regular drinking is without risk to health and presented a link between regular drinking and cancer.
It recommends that men and women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
This should be spread over the course of the week as binge drinking increases the risk of long-term illnesses as well as risk of accidents.
“The link between alcohol and cancer is now well established, and it’s not just heavy drinkers who are at risk,” said Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention.
“This is reflected in the new guidelines issued by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers that stated that the risk of developing a range of illnesses, including cancer, increased with any amount of alcohol you drink.
“As the consultation closes on how clear and understandable the new guidelines are, it’s concerning that so few people know that alcohol increases the risk of seven types of cancer. If the new guidelines are to make a difference and change drinking habits in the UK, national health campaigns are needed to provide clear information about the health risks of drinking alcohol.”
Dr Penny Buykx, a senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the report which details the findings, said: “We’ve shown that public awareness of the increased cancer risk from drinking alcohol remains worryingly low.
“People link drinking and liver cancer, but most still don’t realise that cancers including breast cancer, mouth and throat cancers and bowel cancer are also linked with alcohol, and that risks for some cancers go up even by drinking a small amount.”
Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, added: “The lack of public awareness of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer is extremely concerning. Up-to-date research demonstrates the clear link between alcohol and seven types of cancer, and it is not just heavy drinkers who are at risk - any amount increases the risk.
“Consumers have the right to know the health risks of the products they purchase and consume. The Alcohol Health Alliance is calling for health warnings on product labels, along with mass media information campaigns, both strongly supported by the public, to empower informed choice about drinking.”