Irish people are less aware about alcohol’s role in mouth cancers. While the cancer link with smoking is more well known, the fact that alcohol causes seven types of cancers, including mouth cancer, is less well understood.
A recent review about lip and oral cavity cancer reported that 26.4% of all of these cancers, worldwide are caused by alcohol products. Alcohol causes oral cancers in the process of metabolizing ethanol, the chemical in alcoholic drinks. The metabolizing process creates reactive metabolites called acetaldehyde, that can directly damage the DNA. If the damages are not repaired properly, DNA is mutated. When mutations affect genes which regulate the cell cycle, it can cause uncontrolled cell growth leading to cancer.
Dental oncologist, Eleanor O’Sullivan at UCC, says there is a need for raising awareness about mouth cancer, which is a silent killer. About 770 cases of these illnesses are reported each year in Ireland and the trend is increasing.
Early signs of mouth cancer include:
- Ulcer-like sores that don’t heal within a few weeks,
- White spots in the mouth, or
- Lumps in the mouth or neck.
People affected by mouth cancers can become hoarse and have numbness of the lips or tongue. In some cases these cancers cause speech impediments as well.
HSE and Alcohol Action Ireland warned the Irish people to monitor and reduce their alcohol use to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Anyone experiencing symptoms is urged to seek a dentist as soon as possible.
Alcohol policy in Ireland
As the World Health Organization reported in 2018, Ireland has a high burden of alcohol harm. The country’s per capita alcohol consumption at 13 liters is even higher than the regional average in Europe – the heaviest alcohol consuming region worldwide. For alcohol using men, per capita consumption is very high at 22.7 liters. The real consequences of this high alcohol consumption are reflected in the 13% of Irish men who have an alcohol use disorder.
Recently, the government, supported by civil society in Ireland, has been making strides in alcohol policy development to prevent and reduce alcohol harms. The Public Health (Alcohol) Act of Ireland was adopted into law in 2018. Since then, the government has taken a stage-wise approach and is making steady progress in implementing the different provisions of the Act.
- In 2019 several improvements regarding alcohol marketing rules stipulated by the Act came into force, including bans on advertising in public transport, 200 meters from a school, creche, or local authority playground, in cinemas except for films which are classified as over 18 and on children’s clothing.
- In November 2020, section 22 of the Act came into force, which saw separation of alcohol in specified licensed premises. The introduction of this regulation is part of a process to de-normalize alcohol.
- Recently, on January 11, 2021 section 23 of the Act came into force. This meant the implementation of measures to de-normalize alcohol in Irish society by banning multi-buy deals, short-term price promotions and loyalty points for alcohol products.
The long awaited minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy, which is section 11 of the Act, is set to come into force in January, 2022.