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New report casts doubt on drinking guidelines -

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New report casts doubt on drinking guidelines

The World Today - Thursday, 8 May , 2008 12:37:00

Reporter: Lindy Kerin

ELEANOR HALL: A report linking alcohol and cancer has intensified the debate about Australia's
drinking guidelines.

The Cancer Institute of New South Wales has conducted an audit of international cancer and alcohol
research and has found that drinking two standard drinks a day can increase the risk of particular
cancers.

And while the new national guidelines, to be released next month, will recommend a reduction in
alcohol intake, there are now calls for even tougher guidelines.

As Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: The health risks from excessive drinking are well known, but a new report from the
Cancer Institute New South Wales, shows even moderate drinking can be dangerous.

The report shows just two standard drinks a day can significantly boost the risk of developing
breast, bowel, throat and mouth cancer.

Professor Jim Bishop is the Institute's Chief Executive Officer.

JIM BISHOP: Drinking more than two standard drinks a day will increase the risk and particularly
for bowel cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer and oesophageal or gullet cancer, and the
average risk increased per average drink, is around 10 to 20 per cent for some of these cancers.

LINDY KERIN: Professor Bishop says the link between alcohol consumption and cancer has been
overlooked in the recent debate about binge drinking.

JIM BISHOP: It's not just about trauma and the social disruption occurs with drinking, particularly
risky drinking, but it's also to do with the fact that you will increase the risks.

Now, cancer, unfortunately, is one of those things where the risk of cancer is very high in our
community, about one in two men and one in three women will most likely get cancer in their
lifetime, it's a very common disease. And people should understand that we can reduce the risk of
cancer, by looking at the preventable risk factors such as alcohol and tobacco particularly.

LINDY KERIN: The report has been released by the New South Wales Government's Assistant Health
Minister Verity Firth.

She says people need to reassess their alcohol intake.

VERITY FIRTH: We're never going to be able to legislate for everyone, we're never going to be able
to say to people you cannot do things that may cause you harm, but what we can do is we can provide
the information to the community we can make sure that they're well informed about the risks and we
can make sure that people under the age of 18 don't have access, which is exactly the same approach
we take to smoking.

LINDY KERIN: Kathy Chapman from the Cancer Council of New South Wales says the evidence about
alcohol and the link to cancer is growing and people should be more aware of the risks.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will release its updated guidelines on
safe alcohol consumption next month.

It will recommend a reduction in the number of standard drinks for men and women,

But Kathy Chapman says the guidelines don't go far enough.

KATHY CHAPMAN: The current alcohol guidelines that we've got from NHMRC are actually very high. At
the moment they recommend four standard drinks a day for men, and two standard drinks a day for
women.

This is really too high when you're thinking about things like cancer risk, so the Cancer Council
actually recommends that people should limit or avoid their alcohol and for men we recommend no
more than two standard drinks a day and for women no more than one standard drink a day.

LINDY KERIN: Kathy Chapman says it's important the guidelines for men and women are different as
women generally have smaller bodies and can absorb alcohol more quickly.

She's also criticised the National Health and Medical Research Council for what she says is an
inconsistency in its position on alcohol intake in its dietary guidelines.

KATHY CHAPMAN: In those dietary guidelines it actually recommends two standard drinks a day for men
and one standard drink a day for women and that recommendation's really actually been based on the
fact that alcohol contributes to weight gain. So it is confusing that you have different sets of
recommendations from NHMRC that relate to alcohol.

LINDY KERIN: But the National Health and Medical Research Council has defended the guidelines.

Professor Jon Currie is the chair of the council's alcohol committee. He says the new standards
take into account the latest scientific evidence.

JON CURRIE: You have to balance all of the risks, and what we're saying to people is that if you
want no risk, then you wouldn't drink at all. You have an increasing risk the more you drink, so
one, two, three, four drinks, your risk starts to increase dramatically.

Two was the level we set for a risk of one in a hundred. That is, a one in a hundred chance of
dying if you drink two drinks regularly over your lifetime, and that was the level we thought was
reasonable for people to work along.

Now, obviously if women have a history of cancer, they may well want to look at drinking less than
that. They may read this report from the cancer people, and say, yes, look, I will reduce my level
below that. We're not saying that you have to drink two, we're saying that at two, your risk of
dying is one in a hundred.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Jon Currie from the National Health and Medical Research Council
speaking to Lindy Kerin.