How drinking less alcohol could save 5500 lives

DRINKING three litres less a year of alcohol per capita could prevent more than 5500 people dying from cancer over two decades, according to new Melbourne research.

The findings from the ­Centre for Alcohol Policy ­Research at La Trobe University also found smoking half a kilogram less annually per capita would reduce the country's cancer deaths by around 3600 over 20 years.

Lead researcher Dr Jason Jiang said his team looked at drinking and smoking rates stretching back to the 1930s.

They were then able to estimate that if alcohol consumption dropped by three litres a year per capita it would reduce cancer-related deaths over 20 years by 12 per cent, whereas a reduction in per capita consumption of tobacco of half a kilogram would result in an 8 per cent drop.

In 2014 there were 45,908 cancer deaths among Australians aged 15 and over.

Dr Jiang said most of the previous ­research focused on the impact of changes in individual consumption, but it was important to understand the effect of ­policy changes at a population level.

"This kind of study can help inform the future of public health policies," he said.

"It provides evidence that a decrease in population-level drinking and tobacco smoking could lead to a reduction in cancer mortality."

Cancer Council CEO Todd Harper said was a need to educate people about the links between drinking and smoking and cancer.

"The lack of community knowledge of the harm of alcohol can cause is particularly worrying, especially given many Australians are unknowingly drinking at levels which can damage their health and increase their risk of eight types of cancer," he said.

This includes mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast cancers.

For smoking, the list of health problems linked to the addiction range from infertility and rheumatoid arthritis to lung, liver and throat cancers.

Knowing there is an almost 20-year lag time between changes being made to curtail consumption and the impact on cancer rates could also help better monitor the effectiveness of policy changes.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association today.

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