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.