The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that its European region has the highest rate of new breast cancer diagnoses compared to the rest of the world, and alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease.
In a statement, the WHO said that in its European region that includes 53 countries and extends from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East, 1,579 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day.
“Alcohol consumption is one of the major modifiable risk factors for the disease, causing seven of every 100 new breast cancer cases in the Region,” said the WHO.
“WHO encourages everyone to understand that the risk of breast cancer can be significantly reduced by simply reducing alcohol consumption.”
According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in 2020, alcohol consumption was responsible for almost 40,000 new breast cancer cases in the European region.
“Many people, including women, are not aware that breast cancer is the most common cancer caused by alcohol among women globally,” said Dr. Marlys Corbex, an expert on noncommunicable diseases for WHO/Europe.
Call for reducing alcohol consumption
“People need to know that by reducing alcohol consumption, they can reduce their risk of getting cancer. It doesn’t matter what type, quality, or price alcohol is,” Corbex said.
The data cited by the WHO shows that breast cancer has become the most common cancer globally.
More than 2 million new cases were estimated in 2020, with about 100,000 attributable to alcohol consumption.
Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen by IARC and is causally linked to seven types of cancer.
“Besides female breast cancer, it increases the risk of developing the following types of cancer: oral cavity (mouth), pharynx (throat), esophagus (gullet), liver, larynx (voice box) and colorectum (large intestine and rectum),” it said.
The world health body said there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, adding the risk of breast cancer increases with each unit of alcohol per day.
“More than 10% of alcohol-attributable cancer cases in the WHO European Region arise from drinking just one bottle of beer (500 ml) or two small glasses of wine (100 ml each) every day,” said the WHO.
For breast cancer, this is even higher, with one in four alcohol-attributable breast cancer cases in the European region being caused by this amount.
“Simply put, alcohol is toxic. It harms every organ while it passes through the body,” said Dr. Carina Ferreira Borges, acting director for Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO/Europe.