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Dr Sarah Louden on wine o’clock, women’s drinking and why we all need to be more aware of what we’re putting into our bodies.

Since becoming more aware of the links between alcohol and breast cancer I have noticed how much advertising of alcohol is aimed at women. Phrases like ‘wine-o’clock’ and ‘Prosecco time’ are becoming more widespread - you see them everywhere from billboards and tote bags, to pictures and wine glasses. I don’t want to be a killjoy about this but I think it is really important that women are told about the links between drinking alcohol and risk of breast cancer - the more you drink, the greater the risk. As we find out more about the links between cancer and alcohol I wonder if we’ll look back at this sort of advertising and wonder what we were thinking. A bit like old school cigarette adverts now!

From talking to friends and patients I don’t think many people are aware of the links between breast cancer and alcohol. When I point them out most people say ‘really, I didn’t know that’.  That’s why I wanted to be part of Balance’s Spot of Lunch campaign to help raise awareness so that women can make informed choices about their drinking.

The message I really want to get across to women is that even if they are light or moderate drinkers they are increasing their risk of developing breast cancer. You don’t have to be a heavy drinker to impact your health. Any level of regular drinking increases the risks – even one drink a day. All types of alcohol, including wine, beer and spirits are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. While the type of alcohol does not matter, the size, alcohol content and number of drinks you have will affect your risk of breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the higher the chance of developing breast cancer at some point in your life.

I see women most weeks concerned about a breast lump. They come to see me really worried about the possibility of breast cancer. Getting any worries checked out immediately if you do have a concern is the best thing you can do. When it comes to reducing the risks, there are lots of things you can’t change about your risk of developing breast cancer, such as getting older or your family history, but reducing how much alcohol you drink is something positive you can do. On the plus side it can also help you lose weight and save money too!

Something that you can do to try and reduce the amount of alcohol you drink is to try having a couple of drink free days a week. Recent research has shown that it is drinkers in the 45 - 60 year old age group who are most likely to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. By trying to have a couple of drink free days a week it will hopefully stop drinking becoming a habit. It’s easy to underestimate your units, but it’s important to be aware of the alcohol content of your drink. A glass of wine for example can contain around three units of alcohol, so it’s a good idea to keep track and avoid wine o’clock becoming a regular habit.

Finally I say to women examine your breast regularly, get to know what is normal for you and see your GP if anything changes.

GP Dr Sarah Louden, Cancer GP lead for Newcastle Gateshead CCG, is backing Balance’s Spot of Lunch campaign.

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