Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women in Sweden and across the world.
But a new survey shows (again) how low awareness still is. The Swedish population remains largely unaware about the link between alcohol use and heightened breast cancer risk.
While many acknowledge the adverse health effects of alcohol, they often overlook its cancer-inducing potential. As early as 1988, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the WHO, classified alcohol as a carcinogen.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in Sweden and in the world. Increasing public recognition about the disease and the factors that increase its risks is therefore very important. According to the study, many people are aware that alcohol is harmful to health. However, they are not as aware that alcohol causes cancer.

There is no minimum limit of alcohol that is safe for consumption concerning breast cancer. The risk increases linearly, meaning the more alcohol a person consumes the greater the risk for cancer in general and breast cancer in particular. Already low-dose alcohol use poses serious cancer risks.

The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), the cancer research agency of the World Health Organization established that alcohol is a carcinogen in as far back 1988.

According to Ellen Brynskog, representative for the Regional Cancer Center, everyone has a right to know this information, as per the Swedish Regional Cancer Center.

The new survey reveals that the majority of people in Sweden are still unaware that alcohol increases the breast cancer risk.

The results come from a Novus survey, which was commissioned and released by the Swedish Regional Cancer Centers in connection with the International Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurring during the month of October.

The survey targeted 18 to 84-year-olds via 1,147 web interviews from September, 7 to 12, 2023. The results are weighted to reflect the general public.

Most people remain unaware that already low-dose alcohol use increases breast cancer risk

The survey shows that Swedes’ knowledge of the connection between alcohol and breast cancer is low.

85% answered that they did not know about the connection.

And three out of four people in Sweden not know that already low levels of alcohol consumption increase the risk of breast cancer.

Lack of awareness of link between alcohol and breast cancer
85% of people in Sweden said they did not know about the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

Most people are willing to change their behavior with awareness of alcohol’s cancer risk

On the other hand, the survey highlights people’s willingness to change their alcohol consumption once they get the information about the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

With this knowledge, one in five women state that they would consider changing their alcohol consumption. Six out of ten also believe that more information is needed about low-dose alcohol use increasing the risk of breast cancer.

It is important therefore that the healthcare system informs the public about the effect alcohol has on health.

This should also extend to providing the right support for those who need it.

The survey also shows that there is broad support for information efforts regarding the connection between alcohol and breast cancer.

People believe more information is needed
60% of the people in Sweden believe more information is needed about low-dose alcohol use increasing the risk of breast cancer.

Background to the survey and overall campaign to increase public recogntion of alcohol-cancer link

Sweden’s Alcohol, Narcotics, Doping and Tobacco Strategy (ANDTS Strategy) notes that there is strong reason to prevent alcohol-related cancers in the country. It also gives strong support to increase knowledge about the link between alcohol and cancer.

The government enters into annual agreements with Sweden’s Municipalities and Regions to support the work of developing cancer care and preventing cancer.

The Regional Cancer Centers work together with relevant stakeholders to contribute to awareness raising on the subject. For example, a new awareness campaign about alcohol and cancer was launched in early 2023.

Movendi International contributed to the development of the new initiative with a strategic workshop, based on the expertise in translating evidence into awareness and action; and based on the experience with developing the trailblazing Be Loud For Change campaign – an initiative to engage people and communities in preventing cancer due to alcohol.

The information disseminated by the campaign is based on the European Code Against Cancer. The Code is an initiative by the WHO and focuses on the ways in which individuals can take action against cancer. One of the measures suggested addresses alcohol consumption.

Just earlier this year, Movendi International reported on a Sifo survey that showed that most people in Sweden were unaware of the link between cancer and alcohol. Of the 4,500 people interviewed, one in five answered that they were not aware of the increased risk of cancer at all.

The survey was carried out by Sifo and commissioned by a consortium of organizations in Sweden.

These organisations have come together for a campaign to increase awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer. The survey also reveals that nine out of ten people say they do not know that even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of cancer.

Many people don’t know that alcohol causes cancer
One in five people did not know at all that alcohol could increase the risk of cancer, according to survey carried out by Sifo.

There are seven different types of cancer that are linked to alcohol consumption – breast cancer, cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, and liver cancer.

In addition to these, there are further forms of cancer that are possibly affected by alcohol, such as pancreatic cancer.

For each of these cancers, the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher is their cancer risk. But for some types of cancer, most notably breast cancer, consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk.

Many people would reduce or quit alcohol use if they knew the cancer risk
Four out of ten people in Sweden say they would reduce or quit alcohol use if they knew the cancer risks, according to survey carried out by Sifo.

No safe level of alcohol use

The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed. However, latest available data indicate that half of all cancers caused by alcohol in the WHO European Region are caused by “light” and “moderate” alcohol consumption. This is less than 1.5 litres of wine or less than 3.5 litres of beer or less than 450 millilitres of spirits per week. This alcohol use pattern is responsible for the majority of alcohol-attributable breast cancers in women.

The highest cancer burden is observed in countries of the European Union (EU). In the EU, cancer is the leading cause of death – with a steadily increasing incidence rate. The majority of all alcohol-attributable deaths are also due to different types of cancers.

Small amounts of alcohol lead to lots of cancer
Half of all cancers caused by alcohol in the WHO European Region are caused by “light” and “moderate” alcohol consumption.

To identify a “safe” level of alcohol consumption, valid scientific evidence would need to demonstrate that at and below a certain level, there is no risk of illness or injury associated with alcohol consumption.

The new WHO statement clarifies that this is not true. Currently available evidence cannot indicate the existence of a threshold at which the carcinogenic effects of alcohol “switch on”.

Moreover, there are no studies that would demonstrate that the potential beneficial effects of low-dose alcohol use on cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes outweigh the cancer risk linked with these same levels of alcohol consumption for individual consumers.

Ethanol (alcohol) causes cancer through biological mechanisms as the compound breaks down in the body, which means that any beverage containing alcohol, regardless of its price and quality, poses a risk of developing cancer.

World Health Organization

For further reading

Source Website: Swedish Regional Cancer Center