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.