Alcohol-related cancers will cause about 135,000 deaths and cost the UK’s National Health Service £2bn over the next 20 years, unless concerted action is taken to highlight the dangers of drinking, health campaigners warn.
The Guardian reports that Cancer Research UK, which commissioned Sheffield University to come up with the figures, said the government urgently needed to counter public ignorance about the link between drinking and cancer and introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) to prevent the number of deaths reaching 7,100 a year by 2035.
The analysis also forecasts more than 1.2m hospital admissions for alcohol-related cancer over the next two decades.
Alison Cox, the director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “These new figures reveal the devastating impact alcohol will have over the coming years. That’s why it’s hugely important the public are aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, and what they can do to improve their risk.
“If we are to change the nation’s drinking habits and try to mitigate the impact alcohol will have, then national health campaigns are needed to provide clear information about the health risks of drinking alcohol.”
The majority of alcohol-related cancer deaths in 2035 are expected to come from oesophageal cancer (3,697), followed by bowel (1,369), other mouth and throat cancers (887), breast (835) and liver cancer (333).
England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has said she would like people to think about their increased risk of cancer each time they reach for a glass of wine. However, Cancer Research UK and its partners in the Alcohol Health Alliance believe there is still more the government can do, including introducing a 50p minimum unit price for alcohol in England.
The analysis found that a 50p minimum price per unit of alcohol could, over 20 years, reduce alcohol-related deaths in England by about 7,200, including about 670 cancer deaths. It would also reduce healthcare costs by £1.3bn, the research suggests.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said in the report: “It is clear from the report that MUP will save lives, including those lost to cancer, and ease the burden on our health service. Importantly, MUP will do this while leaving moderate drinkers and prices in pubs and bars unaffected.
“In addition, we need mandatory health information on the labels of all alcoholic products, informing the public of the link between alcohol and cancer, and the new low-risk drinking guidelines.
“The public have the right to know about how their drinking impacts their health, so that they are empowered to make informed choices.”
The report says the research assumes drinking trends will follow those seen over the last 40 years and takes into account recent falls in alcohol consumption. Caroline Moye, head of the World Cancer Research Fund, said 21,000 cancer cases a year could be avoided in the UK if no one drank.