First alcohol and cancer conference in NZ Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The first New Zealand conference on the association between alcohol use and cancer is being held at Te Papa, Wellington on Wednesday (17th June).

It has been documented in in the scientific literature for at least 50 years that alcohol is carcinogenic, and it has been scheduled as a Group 1 carcinogen (an agent that directly causes cancer) by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) since 1988. However, this information is not familiar to the public of New Zealand.

"Recent Canadian research has shown low but increasing public awareness of the association between alcohol and cancer over the past two decades from 21% in 1996 to 36% in 2012" said Prof Doug Sellman, medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action NZ.

"Similar patterns are likely here, with the majority of New Zealanders being unaware of such an important linkage. This is of concern given that alcohol consumption is so common, involving 90% of the population 15 years and over".

"More than 800 people under 80 years of age die every year of alcohol-related causes in New Zealand, and nearly a third of them die of an alcohol-related cancer" said Prof Jennie Connor, another medical spokesperson for Alcohol Action NZ.

"In fact, breast cancer is the most common cause of alcohol-related death in New Zealand women, both Maori and non-Maori women".

"This conference will highlight the association between alcohol and cancer from basic science through clinical aspects to a comprehensive epidemiological view, and then discuss effective ways in which the incidence of alcohol-related cancer in New Zealand can be reduced."

Prevention approaches will need to include policies to reduce the level of alcohol consumption across the population, affecting alcohol marketing, pricing, accessibility, age of purchase and drink-driving plus increased treatment for heavy drinkers (the 5+ Solution). National and international challenges to these reforms will be discussed.