New research has shown strong evidence that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of a number of cancers, including breast, bowel, larynx, oesophageal and liver cancer.

Dr Helen Zorbas, Chief Executive Officer, National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC) said many women may not be aware there is such a strong link between alcohol consumption and an increase in breast cancer risk. “Evidence shows two standard alcoholic drinks per day increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 13 per cent, compared to women who do not drink alcohol at all, and that risk increases by approximately seven per cent for each additional standard drink,” Dr Zorbas told Neos Kosmos.

“If you do choose to drink, you should limit your consumption”. While some risk factors for breast cancer – such as being a woman, getting older and having a strong family history of the disease – are outside of women’s control, there are some simple lifestyle changes women can make to reduce their risk of developing the disease, Dr Zorbas said.

Increasing exercise to at least two hours a week, maintaining a healthy body weight, which is especially important as you get older, and following a healthy, varied diet can reduce risks of breast cancer, she advised. NBOCC has developed a user-friendly, interactive calculator which is intended to help women understand their level of risk for breast cancer, which risk factors they can influence, and what to do about them.

It can help women gain a good understanding of their level of risk for breast cancer compared to another woman of their age group. The calculator can be accessed online at Early detection of breast cancer means more treatment options are available and chances of survival are better. It is recommended that women aged 50-69 years have a screening mammogram every two years as this is the age group in which the benefit of mammography screening has been shown to be the greatest, Dr Zorbas said.

Professor Dallas English, Epidemiologist and Senior Principal research fellow at the Cancer Council Victoria, said while findings show a higher proportion of breast cancers were due to alcohol, than has been reported previously, other factors like smoking and obesity present the biggest threats. “Obesity is a really strong risk factor for many cancers, including breast cancer and bowel cancer,” Prof. English told Neos Kosmos.

“There’s no doubt diet contributes to cancer through its effect on obesity and then the other side is physical activity, the more physically active people are the lower their risk of cancer. Genetic predisposition is also not as common as many people think, Prof. English said. “There are some very high risk mutations that women have with respect to breast cancer and also others for bowel cancer – most cancers have these high risk mutations – but they don’t count for much of the cancer,” he said.

“Having a strong family history for breast cancer only explains abut 10 to15 percent of breast cancer. Having a strong family history certainly increases the risk a lot, but not that many people in the population have a strong family history.” In terms of cancer prevention the number one thing is smoking, which is substantial particularly in Greek men, Prof. English said. He was also quick to quash the myth that a glass of red wine a day has any cancer-fighting properties. “There is no scientific evidence of that whatsoever, it’s a total myth,” he said.