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Norway - alcohol and cancer


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Norwegian Cancer Society

NCS works continuously to improve society’s attitude to the prevention and treatment of cancer. They fight cancer locally, nationally and globally through research and preventive measures, information, support, advice and lobbying.

Alcohol and cancer

Research shows that even low alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, and there is no safe limit.


Nordic Cancer Society (NCS) got funding for the alcohol work in 2015 from The Norwegian Directorate of Health. Objective: Increase knowledge of the relationship between alcohol and cancer and contribute to eliminate myths about alcohol and health.

NCS invited to a consensus meeting on alcohol and cancer in 2015, where Kristina Kjærheim from the Cancer Registry presented her research on alcohol and cancer. Invited current partners from the Danish Cancer Society, Directorate of Health, Norwegian Institute of Public health (NIPH), Sirus, the National Association for Heart- and Lung Diseases, Norwegian Medical Association, Actis, Vinmonopolet, Av og TiL. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a knowledge base and to discuss communication about alcohol and health.

NCS participated with a booth at the "Women of the Time" conference "in the fall. Sticker and small folders "What you should know about alcohol" were handed out at the booth. Alcohol-free and colourful drinks were served. This was a test of how women received the message (many of them were not aware that a glass a day is actually not healthy for your heart).

Questions and answers and myths about alcohol and cancer were produced and posted on our website

A representative survey conducted by Sentio for Actis in 2016 found that 7 out of 10 women were not aware of the association between alcohol and cancer.

NCS made a promotional film "One glass less is enough - Enjoy life long". This film is still on our website and on Youtube

NCS was present at the National Nursing Congress 2016 where approx. 1200 nurses attended:

Booth with the theme - Alcohol and cancer "A glass less is enough". 

Collaboration with the producer of non-alcoholic beverages who served drinks at the booth. Shared information and distributed fact sheets and leaflets on alcohol and cancer, especially directed to health professionals aiming to kill myths and increase knowledge about the relationship between alcohol and cancer.

The information we conveyed was - Did you know that:

• 7 out of 10 Norwegian women do not know that there is a connection between alcohol and cancer

• Over half of Norwegian women drink alcohol in their everyday lives

• Alcohol consumption has increased by 40 per cent over the last 20 years and most among highly educated women

• Men drink more than women, but in recent years wine consumption among women has tripled

• Even low alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cancer

November 2016 alcohol blog by Secretary-General in NCS. NCS doesn´t preach zero, but some glasses less. If everyone cut some glasses, we would see it on the cancer statistics.

In november 2018, former Secretary-General of NCS, Anne Lise Ryel was invited to WHO Euro meeting in Edinburgh to hold a presentation with the title: The role of civil society in advocating for policy measures to reduce the risk of alcohol-attributable cancers. She said at the meeting that Norway should to be the second country after Ireland to get health warnings on the labels of alcoholic beverages. 

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Carina Alm: In contrast to the other risk factors, alcohol is not framed or perceived as only unhealthy

Lauri Beekmann: Norway is far ahead compared to most of the countries in the world when it comes to alcohol policy and understanding of alcohol related-harm. How do you estimate the knowledge of alcohol as a cancer risk? How well is it understood? Is it considered when cancer prevention is discussed?

Carina Alm: The data we have from different national surveys show that Norwegians aren’t much more knowledgeable than others when it comes to understanding the link between alcohol and cancer. 

In contrast to the other risk factors, a

Cancer research has come a long way, and is getting better and better. Medical treatment today saves many lives. But still, close to 11,000 people die of cancer each year. And at least one in three cancer cases is related to our lifestyle. We have no guarantee against developing cancer, but we can make some choices that reduce the risk.

Most people know that smoking is carcinogenic. What perhaps fewer people know is that alcohol is too. A survey conducted in ten western countries showed that 10 per cent and 3 per cent of cancer cases among men and women, respectively, are caused by alcohol. It is ethanol, the very alcohol in the drink, that is harmful. In other words, the risk of developing cancer is the same if you drink beer, wine or spirits, if you get the same amount of ethanol.

The body has several defence mechanisms to correct damage caused by alcohol and substances that the alcohol is converted into in the body. Most of us have an enzyme in our body that significantly counteracts alcohol's adverse effects by breaking down the harmful substances that alcohol is converted into. But some of us also have variants of these repair mechanisms that prevent them from repairing DNA damage effectively. 540 million worldwide either lack or have a negative variant of this enzyme, and they have an increased risk of oesophagal cancer when consuming alcohol. This enzyme deficiency is especially common in people from Southeast Asia.

It is essential to point out that those with well-functioning repair mechanisms are not free from cancer risk either. And, of course, no one can secure oneself against developing cancer. Often, life is just terribly unfair. But we know there are cancer cases that are related to what kind of life we live, and therefore we should think about what we can do to reduce the risk.

One can make many lifestyle choices, and one of them is to cut down on alcohol. No safe lower limit has been set for alcohol use that does not increase the risk of cancer. However, it is well documented that the risk is reduced for each glass you cut.

Find more from Av-og-til

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