Texas Cancer Plan: Evidence-Based Policies Can Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

In our most recent post, we recognized Breast Cancer Awareness Month by exploring the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

But breast cancer is just one of several types of cancer associated with alcohol consumption – head and neck, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer are among the others. And the link between alcohol and these types of cancer is not hypothetical, anecdotal, or mythical; there is strong scientific consensus since “clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of some cancers.”

Increasing public awareness and education about this connection can be challenging for those of us working in the field of prevention. Which is why we are inspired by a new development.

Last month, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas released their 2018 Texas Cancer Plan. The plan includes 16 goals defined as “broad and lofty” statements that will help guide the state’s action plan for cancer research, prevention, and control.

At Texans Standing Tall, we took special note of Goal #2, which focuses on increasing healthy behaviors to reduce new cases and deaths from cancer. In particular, we were pleased to see that the plan instructs Texans to “support evidence-based policies to address excessive consumption of alcohol, including limits on days of sale, hours of sale, increasing alcohol taxes and regulating alcohol outlet density.”

What is so promising to those of us at TST and our partners across the state is that the language we use every single day in our work – terms like “evidence-based policies” and “alcohol outlet density” – are being articulated in an important report like the Texas Cancer Plan.

These are not simply industry buzz words, and the Texas Cancer Plan is absolutely on target: the strategies they list are proven ways to reduce underage and excessive alcohol use – and the associated cancer risk that comes along with it. They are also critical strategies in achieving a greater mission to create healthier, safer communities; a mission that becomes more possible as these terms become part of our public discourse and policy discussions.

According to the plan, it’s estimated that 44,713 Texans will lose their lives to cancer. Yet nearly 50 percent of new cancers and death from cancers can be prevented if we take the recommended steps to reduce certain risk factors. For example, increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would mean at least 77 fewer Texans would die from cancer every year. In addition to saving individual lives, it also means that 77 fewer families would suffer from the devastating loss of a loved one. (See chart below for estimated annual reductions in cancer mortality.)

Statewide policies that reduce access to alcohol and other cancer-causing drugs, like tobacco, will literally save lives in the long run. As the Texas Legislature prepares for its next session in January, consider joining Texans Standing Tall or your local coalition to get involved in the conversation and play a role in preventing cancer deaths.

Source: “Alcohol Attributable Cancer Deaths” addendum from The Effects of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Public Health and Safety in Texas

 

 

 

 

The Link Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer

In her powerful article, “Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?”, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer explores the link between alcohol and breast cancer. What she discovered may be more relevant to your kids’ experiences with underage drinking than you might think.

Diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 47 – 15 years younger than the median age in the U.S. –  the journalist embarked on her own personal journey that included conducting extensive research, which led her to a shocking truth she was unaware of until she was diagnosed: the link between alcohol and breast cancer, she learned, is “deadly solid.”

Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other.

I’m a pretty voracious reader of health news, and all of this came as a shock. I’d been told red wine was supposed to defend against heart disease, not give you cancer.

Mencimer drank in her younger years in a Mormon community in Utah, “where we distinguished ourselves from the future missionaries in the public schools with excessive drinking.” (It’s interesting to note that in Utah, Mormon women’s breast cancer rates are more than 24 percent lower than the national average.)

As an adult, though, she spent her life regularly going to the doctor for check-ups, eating right, and exercising regularly. She breastfed her children and avoided plastics, sugar, and pesticides. She had no family history of breast cancer. Still, she wrote, “not once has any doctor suggested I might face a higher cancer risk if I didn’t cut back on drinking.”

This begs the question: if educated adults dedicated to healthy lifestyles aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, how are our kids supposed to know about it?

Mencimer explores the potential effects of excessive alcohol at a young age in her article:

Ninety percent of alcohol consumption by underage Americans is binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks on one occasion, according to the CDC. I’ll never know for sure, but all the drinking I did in my adolescence may have helped pave the way for the cancer I got at 47.

The average age youth in Texas report drinking their first alcoholic beverage is 12.6, which is also the average age of a seventh grader.

We already know that the longer kids wait to take their first drink, the lower the odds are that they’ll develop alcohol abuse or dependence as adults. They’re also less likely to experience the negative consequences of underage drinking – things like alcohol-related car crashes, unplanned or unprotected sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, abuse of other drugs, or even death from alcohol poisoning.

These are things we should be talking to our kids about on a regular basis. But should we also be talking about reducing their risk of cancer later in life?

Absolutely.

For cancer prevention, alcohol consumption is one of largest avoidable risk factors. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent. Moreover, 12 percent of female breast cancer diagnoses are attributable to alcohol consumption.

Our children may not be interested in percentages, and they may not fully comprehend that their future risk of cancer increases with underage drinking. But they need to know that underage drinking has consequences that extend beyond the most obvious ones like drinking and driving.

Time and time again, research tells us that parents play a critical role in their child’s decision to drink underage. Recent research out of Australia also reveals that, like adults, most young people don’t know about the link between alcohol and cancer. However, those aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they are aware that the link exists. The report highlights the need for parents to educate their children on this kind of health issue in addition to modeling responsible drinking behaviors.

This October, we want to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the opportunity it provides to talk to our children about the C-word. As parents, we can do our part to arm them with basic knowledge so that they aren’t surprised to discover, as Mencimer was, that their choices today may affect them tomorrow.

If you’re interested in learning more about alcohol and cancer in Texas, check out the “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths” addendum from our report, The Effects of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Public Health and Safety in Texas.

 

 

Think Before You Pink

Beverly Canin during her luncheon keynote presentation. 

Beverly Canin is first and foremost a patient advocate; she is also a breast cancer survivor.

She led our Summit lunch plenary, speaking about the correlation between alcohol and cancer—specifically female breast cancer.

We know alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer by damaging DNA in cells, and that alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three drinks per week have a 15% greater risk of breast cancer. Canin shared these and other startling statistics with our audience at the 2018 Statewide Summit.

She also explained the term “pinkwashing,” which was coined by the organization Breast Cancer Action, where Canin sits on the board of directors.  Pinkwashing occurs when a company or organization promotes a pink ribbon product and appears to support breast cancer research or awareness, but at the same time produces, manufactures, or sells products that are linked to the disease. The alcohol industry has been guilty of pinkwashing, and Canin said it’s important for consumers to do their research and advocate against the practice. One of the more extreme examples of this practice is cancer-related organizations who promote events and fundraisers that often include alcohol, or are sponsored by alcohol companies.

Canin herself was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and she quickly became aware of the importance of cancer advocacy because so much conflicting information made it difficult to make sense of it all. Through her advocacy, she also became increasingly aware of the link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption.

At Texans Standing Tall, we work to stay up to date and share news and information about the increased risk associated with breast cancer and alcohol. It was meaningful to have an opportunity to hear from a survivor who has excelled at researching the link between breast cancer and alcohol, as well as advocating for herself and for others.

Drinking Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk

Alcohol is a “definitive” risk factor for cancer, according to a statement released this month by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 

According to ASCO, minimizing excessive exposure of alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention. In its statement, ASCO noted that alcohol consumption is causally associated with oropharyngeal (throat) and laryngeal (voicebox) cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. However, alcohol may also be a risk factor for other cancers, including pancreatic and stomach cancers.

Researchers looked at several studies that found a strong correlation between alcohol and cancer.  They concluded that 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths were due to alcohol consumption.  They further concluded that in 2012, 5.5% of new cancer occurrences and 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were attributable to alcohol consumption.

“The importance of alcohol drinking as a contributing factor to the overall cancer burden is often underappreciated,” the organization said in its statement. “Associations between alcohol drinking and cancer risk have been observed consistently regardless of the specific type of alcoholic beverages.”

Another recent study shows that teens aged 14-17 are less likely to drink if they know about the link between alcohol and cancer. Unfortunately, most aren’t actually aware of the connection. To help create healthier, safter communities, Texans Standing Tall believes its especially important to share this new research so young people gain a better understanding of the consequences of alcohol consumption.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Colorectal Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The CDC reports that about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease annually, while more than 50,000 people die from it. This Colorectal Awareness Month, Texans Standing Tall asks that you raise awareness around the increased risks of developing the disease from alcohol use.

For some, risks for colorectal cancer can be attributed to genetics. A family history of polyps in the colon, rectum, or both tremendously increases risks for colorectal cancer. However, lifestyle factors can also increase the risks.

Cancer Research UK points to alcohol consumption as a risk factor for seven different cancers: head and neck, larynx, esophageal, liver, women’s breast, and colorectal. In the United States, it is estimated that 3.5% of all cancer deaths are alcohol-related. In Texas, 58 people die annually from alcohol attributed colorectal cancer.

Though we’ve heard more about the connection between alcohol and cancer in recent years, the concept is nothing new. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared it to be a group 1 carcinogen in 1988. In other words, there is sufficient evidence showing that alcohol consumption can cause cancer.

Research points to several ways that alcohol use can increase cancer risk:

  • The ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA and proteins.
  • Alcohol can create highly reactive molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that can also damage DNA.
  • Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk.
  • Alcohol can increase blood levels of estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer risk.

While there is no “safe” amount to drink when it comes to cancer, research also indicates the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk.  By making the following changes, Texans can greatly lower their risks of developing colorectal cancer.

  • Limit alcohol intake. Research shows that alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking is generally a risky life choice because of it increases the chances of developing cancer. Drinking and smoking multiplies the risks for certain cancers because alcohol and tobacco work together to damage cells of the body. Alcohol also makes it easier for the body to absorb carcinogens in tobacco.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Diets high in red meats and processed meats (like hotdogs and some lunch meats) can raise the risk for colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that diets that consists of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain fibers have been linked with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Engage in physical activity. Studies show that being more physically active helps lower colorectal cancer risks.
  • Educate lawmakers on the benefits of an alcohol excise tax increase. In February, Texans Standing Tall released The Effect of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths. The document serves as addendum to our full report, The Effect of Alcohol Excise Tax Increases on Public Health and Safety in Texas, and shows that a dime a drink increase would result in 8.62% fewer colorectal cancer deaths in Texas every year. At first, that may not sound like a significant number, but it’s important to remember that those lives being saved are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, teacher, or coworker.

We must begin protecting our youth and our communities by implementing evidence-based strategies that save lives; increasing alcohol excise tax is one of the most effective ways we can do just that. To learn more check out or full excise tax report and visit TexansStandingTall.org for additional information.