Living free from disease is an important aspect of being healthy. It has become ever more prominent during the ongoing public health crisis. But compared to COVID-19, a much longer standing health crisis for Sweden is alcohol-related cancer death.
- As per the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in Sweden in 2019 alcohol caused 1500 cancer deaths.
- It is estimated that 2.3% of all newly discovered Swedish cancer cases are related to alcohol.
The most common cancers caused by alcohol are mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, as well as breast cancer. Research shows that the type of alcohol – whether it is beer, wine or liquor – matters not for the cancer risk, because it is the ethanol content that determines the carcinogenicity of the product. Ethanol which is the active ingredient in the products of the alcohol industry is what causes cancer. And there is no safe level of alcohol use concerning the cancer risk.
A 2016 report by IOGT-NTO, the Swedish Society of Medicine and CERA in cooperation with Forum Ansvar found that, 30% of all alcohol-attributable cancer cases and deaths in Sweden are caused by low levels of alcohol consumption.
The link between cancer and alcohol becomes even more obvious when alcohol consumption rates and cancer morbidity is compared. In the parts of the world with the highest consumption of alcohol, such as in Eastern Europe, southern Africa and Latin America, cancer morbidity is also highest according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Additionally, Peter Allebeck, professor of social medicine at Karolinska Institutet says that new research shows that survival in alcohol-related cancer appears to be worse than in tumors caused by other factors.
Lack of public recognition of alcohol’s carcinogenicity
Despite alcohol being one of the six major risk factors of cancer, there is a lack of awareness among Swedish people that alcohol causes cancer.
The public and members of the medical professions are largely unaware of the role of alcohol as a cause of cancer,” stated the Alcohol and Society report by IOGT-NTO, the Swedish Society of Medicine, and CERA.
Among the general public in European Union nations, Swedes had the lowest recognition of the relationship between alcohol and cancer in a recent study.”Alcohol and Society report, IOGT-NTO, the Swedish Society of Medicine and CERA.
As Movendi International has documented the alcohol industry actively works to hide and blur the evidence regarding alcohol’s cancer risk. This is a major reason for the low levels of public awareness.
A scientific article by Petticrew and colleagues, for instance, explores how Big Alcohol’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) front groups use dark nudges and sludge to exploit consumers’ cognitive biases to promote mixed messages about alcohol harms and to undermine scientific evidence.
The alcohol industry has also been found to fund research to paint alcohol in a favorable light or cast doubt over existing evidence about alcohol harms such as cancer. Big Alcohol is also engaged in a practice dubbed “pinkwashing,” which involves branding alcoholic products with ribbons denoting breast cancer awareness to obscure ethanol’s carcinogenicity by confusing consumers.
As per the Alcohol and Society report, labeling of alcohol containers with warnings about the risk of specific cancers is one action which can be taken to increase population level awareness of the risks.
A series of studies published on the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that labeling depicting cancer risk of alcohol reduced alcohol consumption by 6.6% in one territory of Canada compared to a 6.9% increase in consumption overall Canada.
The alcohol industry lobbied aggressively and leveraged legal threats to shut down some of the studies. The industry also made media statements distorting and denying the evidence.
For further reading
ALCOHOL AND CANCER
Movendi International’s one-stop-shop for all facts, information, explanation about alcohol and cancer issues