One third of alcohol-related deaths due to cancer

Almost 6,000 Australians die from alcohol-attributable disease, including cancer, in a single year – about one person every 90 minutes, according to new research.

The National Alcohol Indicators (NAI) project, conducted by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University, NSW, found:

  • An estimated 5,785 Australians aged 15 and older died from alcohol-attributable causes in 2015.
  • Cancer was responsible for 36 per cent of those deaths, while injuries, cardiovascular diseases and digestive diseases were the next leading cause (17 per cent, about 1,000 deaths each).
  • Breast cancer (18 per cent) and liver disease (15 per cent) were the biggest killers among women. Among men, liver disease (18 per cent) and bowel/colorectal cancer (10 per cent) were the most common conditions caused by alcohol.
  • Hospitalisations attributable to alcohol exceeded 144,000 in 2012-13 – an average of about 400 a day.
  • Alcohol dependence (21 per cent), falls (12 per cent) and alcohol abuse (10 per cent) were the main causes of hospitalisation.

The four-page bulletin presents the latest statistics available on alcohol-attributable death and hospitalisations in the country.

“This research shows that in Australia, one person dies every 90 minutes on average, and someone ends up in our hospitals every 3½ minutes, because of preventable conditions caused by alcohol,” NDRI Alcohol Policy Team Leader Professor Tanya Chikritzhs said.

Education and Research Director at Cancer Council WA Terry Slevin said: “Most people will be quite shocked that more than one third of alcohol-related deaths are due to cancer.

“We rarely see people with a cancer diagnosis link their drinking to the disease. Personal stories, such as ‘my smoking caused my cancer’, are powerful in getting across the importance of changing our behaviour for health reasons.

“We have a long way to go to embed the notion that drinking alcohol genuinely increases risk of cancer and death.”