Government drinking limits may leave women at risk of cancer
New research into the effects of drinking on women’s cancer risk throws the government safe drinking limit into confusion.
Government guidelines say that women can safely drink up to three units of alcohol a day, but the latest research from Oxford University seems to show that this amount would raise their risk of developing breast, liver or rectal cancer by a quarter.
The survey of more than a million middle-aged women found that if a woman smokes as well as drinking her three units of alcohol her likelihood of developing any cancer goes up by an eighth and her risk for oral and throat cancers goes up by a quarter.
Cancer Research UK spokesman Sara Hiom said: ‘We know that too much alcohol increases the risk of a number of cancers. This latest study shows that even relatively low levels of drinking increase a woman’s risk.
‘Cancer Research UK recommends that the more you cut down on alcohol, the more you reduce your cancer risk.’
Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘This study will be deeply disturbing to many women who drink regularly.
The research, reported in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, found that the average woman drank a unit a day and had just under a 12 per cent chance of developing one of the five cancers up to the age of 75.
Each extra unit she drank a day gave her 13 per cent more risk. Drinking three units a day, which is just one large glass of wine, increased her overall risk to nearly 25 per cent higher than that of a moderate drinker.
Study leader Dr Naomi Allen, of Oxford University’s cancer epidemiology unit, said: ‘These findings suggest that even relatively low levels of drinking – about one or two alcoholic drinks every day – increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer of the breast, liver and rectum.’
The findings suggest that there might be a sharp rise in such cancers among British women as women now drink around 50 per cent more alcohol than they did in 1998.
A Department of Health spokesman told the Daily Mail: ‘We keep our guidance on sensible drinking under review. We currently advise on a lower risk drinking limit as drinking above this level could be harmful.
‘There is no completely safe level of drinking but this lower level reflects known health risks including breast cancer, which is partly why there is a lower drinking limit for women. ‘We look forward to examining this research in more detail.’