20,000 new cases every year: alcohol atlas quantifies the risk of cancer

Nobody wants to get cancer, but many are reluctant to give up alcohol.

20,000 new cases every year: alcohol atlas quantifies the risk of cancer

Nobody wants to get cancer, but many are reluctant to give up alcohol. But those who drink a lot not only risk liver and pancreas problems, but also an increased risk of developing cancer. The new figures show that.

According to estimates, more than 20,000 new cancer cases and more than 8,000 cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption in Germany every year. According to the author of the Alcohol Atlas 2022, the strongest influence is on colon cancer, cancer of the mouth and throat, liver, esophagus and breast. "Many people are not aware that alcohol is a significant cancer risk factor," says Katrin Schaller from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

In view of the thousands of alcohol-related new cases of cancer each year, experts are appealing to politicians to increase taxes on alcohol, raise the sales age and limit advertising. At the same time, the experts warn politicians against alcohol industry lobbyists who try to influence decision-makers and sponsor public institutions, party conferences or sporting events in order to present themselves as socially responsible partners. They also supported scientific studies that downplayed or disputed the negative effects of alcohol consumption on health and society.

The more than 8,000 cancer deaths affect men much more frequently. They account for around 6200 cases, compared to 2100 in women. This corresponds to around six percent of all cancer deaths in men and three percent in women.

With their demands, the DKFZ, the German Cancer Aid and the German Cancer Society want to set an accent at the beginning of the National Cancer Prevention Week, which lasts until September 16th. The basis is the atlas, which, among other things, sheds light on the connection between the socially tolerated consumption of alcohol and cancer.

According to the experts, consumption could be reduced by making alcohol more expensive. They still see room for improvement in the tax on alcohol. Currently the alcohol tax is 1303 euros per hectolitre of pure alcohol. According to the companies, annual income from this tax of 3.2 billion euros is offset by direct and indirect alcohol-related costs of 57 billion euros. This stems from medical expenses, as well as lower productivity, absenteeism from work and early retirement. In other countries, a price increase of 10 percent pushed consumption down by 6 percent, as explained by Schaller.

Another construction site is the protection of minors. Young people aged 14 and over are currently allowed to drink wine and beer when accompanied by their parents, and unsupervised from the age of 16. At the age of 18, hard drinks such as rum, schnapps and vodka are added. The cancer societies advocate for a uniform age limit of 18 for the consumption of all types of alcoholic beverages, regardless of whether parents are present.

The experts also see unused levers in advertising; so far there has only been a ban on alcohol advertising in cinemas before 6 p.m. "We urgently demand at least a ban on advertising in the context of sporting events of all kinds," says Schaller.

Cancer Aid boss Gerd Nettekoven sums up that everyone can give up unhealthy habits. "But cancer prevention is not just a private matter." Politicians must create conditions that promote a healthy lifestyle.

The risk of developing cancer increases with increasing amounts and frequency of ingestion of the cytotoxin. Even low alcohol consumption of up to 12.5 grams of alcohol per day increases the risk of developing cancer in the mouth and throat, esophagus and breast. "Many years of life in good health are lost through alcohol consumption," states the atlas. Most alcohol-related deaths occur between the ages of 20 and 50.

(This article was first published on Monday, September 12, 2022.)

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