Do Beliefs about Alcohol and Cancer Risk Vary by Alcoholic Beverage Type and Heart Disease Risk Beliefs?
Alcohol increases the risk of cancer, but most people in the United States believe it does the opposite, a new study shows.
Researchers set out to understand people’s awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer. There study shows that public awareness is low. Data were derived from a nationally representative survey of over 3,000 U.S. adults carried out in 2020.
All types of alcoholic beverages, including wine, increase cancer risk,” said senior study author William Klein, associate director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program, as per UPI reporting.
This study’s findings underscore the need to develop interventions for educating the public about the cancer risks of alcohol use, particularly in the prevailing context of national dialogue about the purported heart health benefits of wine.”William Klein, associate director, U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program
Using data from a government survey that included responses from more than 3,800 adults, the researchers analyzed answers to questions, such as
- “In your opinion, how much does drinking the following types of alcohol affect the risk of getting cancer?”
- The investigators also asked the participants about their own alcohol intake.
About 31% of participants were aware of the cancer risk for liquor, followed by nearly 25% for beer and just over 20% for wine.
Some people even falsely believe alcohol lowered their cancer risk, including 10% of participants who said wine reduced risk, 2.2% who thought beer lowered risk and 1.7% who said that liquor did, the findings showed.
More than 50% of people reported not knowing the impact of these beverages on cancer risk.
The study also asked participants about heart disease and alcohol. About 39%, 36% and 25% of U.S. adults said they believed that liquor, beer and wine, respectively, increased heart disease risk.
Remarkably, the awareness numbers for alcohol and heart disease – while low – are better than for alcohol and cancer.
Survey respondents who were aware of the heart disease risks due to alcohol were more likely to say they knew of the alcohol-cancer link.
Alcohol use status does not matter for awareness
Older adults were less aware of alcohol’s link with cancer risk. This may be due to more longstanding alcohol use habits among older adults, said Andrew Seidenberg, who led the study while serving as a cancer prevention fellow at the cancer institute, as per UPI reporting.
Awareness about alcohol and cancer risk was not linked to alcohol use status, meaning that alcohol users, heavy users, and non-users all had similar low awareness rates.
Alcohol a leading cause of cancer in the U.S.
Alcohol contributed to an average of more than 75,000 cancer cases and almost 19,000 cancer deaths each year between 2013 and 2016, according to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
Alcohol use accounts for 6% of all cancer cases in the United States and 4% of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
Seven cancer types are associated with alcohol consumption. Studies have shown a link between alcohol intake and cancers of the mouth, throat, voicebox, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and breast.
Any beverages that contain ethanol increase cancer risk, including wine, beer and liquor.
The cancer risk increases with increasing alcohol intake and there is no safe amount of alcohol use.
The risks are especially elevated for breast cancer. Compared with women who don’t consume alcohol.
Women who consume three alcoholic beverages per week are 15% more likely to develop breast cancer. That risk increases further by 10% for each additional alcoholic drink women regularly consume each day.
Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer in the United States and previous research has shown that most Americans don’t know this,” Seidenberg said as per UPI reporting.Andrew Seidenberg, study lead, and cancer prevention fellow, U.S. National Cancer Institute
Unfortunately, the link hasn’t gotten much attention in the media, says Seidenberg, as per Yahoo reporting, who is now research director at Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization.
Getting the message out there is especially important in a time when alcohol consumption is going up, especially among women,” said Katherine Keyes, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, according to Yahoo reporting.
Studies have shown the biggest increases are among women aged 30 to 45. We need to target messaging to the groups who are [consuming alcohol] more and more.”Katherine Keyes, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Researchers suggest putting cancer warning labels on beverages could help raise awareness, according to The Hill reporting.
Research is definitely needed to identify messages and messaging strategies that can increase awareness,” Seidenberg said, according to Yahoo reporting.
Interventions that could help increase awareness of the alcohol-cancer link include mass media campaigns, cancer warning labels and patient-provider communications.”Andrew Seidenberg, study lead, and cancer prevention fellow, U.S. National Cancer Institute
Alcohol is a leading risk factor for cancer, yet awareness of the alcohol–cancer link is low.
Awareness may be influenced by perceptions of potential health benefits of alcohol consumption or certain alcoholic beverage types.
The purpose of this study was to estimate awareness of the alcohol–cancer link by beverage type and to examine the relationship between this awareness and concomitant beliefs about alcohol and heart disease risk.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2020 Health Information National Trends Survey 5 Cycle 4, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults.
- Awareness of the alcohol–cancer link was highest for liquor (31.2%), followed by beer (24.9%) and wine (20.3%).
- More U.S. adults believed wine (10.3%) decreased cancer risk, compared with beer (2.2%) and liquor (1.7%).
- Most U.S. adults (>50%) reported not knowing how these beverages affected cancer risk.
- U.S. adults believing alcoholic beverages increased heart disease risk had higher adjusted predicted probabilities of being aware of the alcohol–cancer link (wine: 58.6%; beer: 52.4%; liquor: 59.4%) compared with those unsure (wine: 6.0%; beer: 8.6%; liquor: 13.2%), or believing alcoholic beverages reduced (wine: 16.2%; beer: 21.6%; liquor: 23.8%) or had no effect on heart disease risk (wine: 10.2%; beer: 12.0%; liquor: 16.9%).
Awareness of the alcohol–cancer link was low, varied by beverage type, and was higher among those recognizing that alcohol use increased heart disease risk.
These findings underscore the need to educate U.S. adults about the alcohol–cancer link, including raising awareness that consuming all alcoholic beverage types increases cancer risk.