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WI Cancer Council Policy Brief - ASCO: Alcohol Increases Cancer Risk

Friday, December 1, 2017  
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On Nov. 7, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released a groundbreaking policy statement on the connection between alcohol use and cancer risk. Lead author and Policy Committee member Noelle LoConte, MD, briefed the committee on the statement's key points.

Put simply, the more alcohol a person drinks, the greater their risk for at least seven types of cancer.

Yet 70% of Americansaren't aware that alcohol can cause cancer.

The ASCO statement is designed to raise awareness, promote research, and push forward policy changes. "When people understand the connection between alcohol and cancer, they are more likely to support policy change," said Courtney Harris, policy coordinator for the WI Comprehensive Cancer Control Program.


ASCO's policy recommendations include:

  • Regulating alcohol outlet density;
  • Increasing alcohol taxes and prices;
  • Enhancing enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors (< age 21); and
  • Supporting efforts to eliminate "pink washing" - the use of the color pink or pink ribbons to market products associated with breast cancer.

Julia Sherman from the WI Alcohol Policy Project reviewed opportunities to enact these policiesin Wisconsin, highlighting the significant local control municipalities have over alcohol outlet licensing, and an opportunity to add state funding for municipalities to enforce alcohol drinking age laws.



The media response to ASCO's statement has been overwhelming, with LoConte granting high-profile interviews to the New York Times, the Wisconsin State Journal, and Time magazine.

However, both LoConte and Sherman discussed the strong pushback they've received fromthe alcohol industry, colleagues, and the public.

"People clearly like their alcohol and don't want to be told about the negative health effects," LoConte said. "The feedback I get is, 'everything is a carcinogen, so who cares.' But with alcohol, ethanol is converted into a known carcinogen; it's a no-brainer. Our statement is not, 'Don't have fun,' it's, 'Know the risks.'"

Bottom line

Remember these talking points when discussing the alcohol and cancer link with patients, colleagues, and other constituencies:

  • Alcohol use increases the risk of at least seven different cancers.
  • Even low levels of drinking can increase risk, but the risk is greatest with heavy, long-term use.
  • By reducing excessive drinking, we decrease the burden of cancer.
  • To reduce your cancer risk, drink less. If you don't drink, don't start.

The ASCO statement represents a major step forward in advancing Priority 3 of the WI CCC Plan.


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