Alcohol link with breast cancer

Last updated 13:48 15/07/2013

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Alcohol has been identified as one of the leading contributors of breast cancer deaths in a University of Otago study.

Although most harm to young people's health from drinking was through injury, alcohol also contributed to chronic diseases, and breast cancer was the leading cause of death from alcohol in both Maori and non-Maori women overall, the findings of an Advisory Council-commissioned report said.

The research, 'Alcohol-attributable burden of disease and injury in New Zealand: 2004 and 2007', was carried out by Professor Jennie Connor and Robyn Kydd from Otago University's Department of Preventive and Social Medicine in Dunedin. It was released today.

The study highlighted the importance of alcohol's toxic and carcinogenic properties, Connor said.

"For many chronic diseases there is no threshold for safe consumption," she said.

"More than 30 per cent of alcohol-attributable deaths are due to cancers, including breast and bowel cancer."

The study included 35 different groups of health conditions causally related to drinking, and found that approximately 800 deaths per year in people under 80 were attributable to alcohol.

"The report confirms the significant impact of heavy drinking and intoxication on health outcomes," Connor said.

Just over 40 per cent of all alcohol deaths were due to injuries and much of the burden of non-fatal conditions was due to alcohol use disorders.

More alcohol-related harm was seen in men than in women, and in Maori than in non-Maori. These differences were largely due to differences in alcohol consumption patterns.

Connor stressed in spite of the wide range of physical health conditions included in the study, there were many effects of heavy drinking on communities that had not been able to be reflected in its findings.

Health Promotion Agency (HPA) General Manager Policy, Research and Advice, Dr Andrew Hearn, said the report was a valuable addition to the evidence of the impact of alcohol on people's health and as a cause of injury across the population in New Zealand.

The findings could be used to inform preventive strategies and their priorities, he said.

 The study was carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organisation Global Burden of Disease 2010 Risk Factors Collaborating Group in Toronto, Canada.

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