Researchers from Southampton are leading a national initiative to include alcohol awareness at breast screening and breast cancer clinic appointments.
The project, ‘Abreast of Health’, has been pioneered by Dr. Julia Sinclair, an associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southampton, and Dr. Ellen Copson, a consultant in breast oncology from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. It follows a previous pilot study in Southampton which revealed that fewer than 20% of women attending screenings or symptomatic clinics were aware of the risk factor alcohol poses for breast cancer.
In a university press release, Dr Sinclair said:
We want to empower women to know what they are drinking as so many are unaware and, for breast cancer, the risk increases with every unit of alcohol consumed from one unit a day – which is around half a medium glass of wine.
Evidence shows that people are more receptive to health improvement advice and to make positive changes in their lifestyle when facing significant health events.
So, particularly for women coming into a clinic when they have found a lump – 95 per cent of whom will be given the all clear – it is a really good time to say here are some things you could do to maximise breast health and your overall health in the future.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer with one in eight women in the UK likely to be diagnosed with it at some point in their lifetime. In 2014, according to Cancer Research UK, more than 11,000 people in the UK died from forms of breast cancer and 27% of all breast cancer diagnoses were preventable.
Dr Sinclair emphasised in the press release that alcohol ‘is in the same cancer-causing league as tobacco’. Research has found that, obesity aside, alcohol consumption is the greatest possible risk factor for getting breast cancer. Women who have three drinks a week are 15% more likely than teetotal women to develop breast cancer and experts believe that the risk of breast cancer increases by 10% for each drink women regularly have each day.
The exact way in which alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer is not fully understood, but it’s believed that consuming alcohol results in increased levels of the female hormone oestrogen in a woman’s body. High levels of female oestrogen can in some cases of breast cancer make more likely the out of control multiplication of cancerous cells. Alcohol also generally raises the risk of cancer by its breaking down in the liver resulting in the organic chemical compound byproduct acetaldehyde. This can cause genetic mutations, in turn potentially triggering a response from the body which leads to cancerous cells developing.
‘Abreast of Health’ is being developed in Southampton and is scheduled to last 18 months. It’s funded by the Medical Research Council, a non-departmental public body responsible for funding and coordinating medical research in the UK.
As well as its role of raising alcohol awareness, the project’s ultimate goal is to develop a web-based app to enable women to record the amount of alcohol they consume and receive feedback. As such, breast clinic patients will be consulted about what exact features the app should contain and further study will be made into what tools generally, apps included, are likely to help women develop greater motivation to reduce alcohol consumption.