Since February 2022, I’ve battled breast cancer. I’d never joined the dots between this and my background of heavy drinking until I was undergoing chemotherapy and threw myself into the research.
I’m well aware that my alcohol consumption when I was drinking would not have fit into Australia’s Alcohol Guidelines. I am an alcoholic in recovery and I’ve now been sober for eight years.
Eighteen months ago, I went for a routine mammogram, which was then followed by a whirlwind of 12 biopsies. I was swiftly diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer, which had already spread to my lymph nodes. I embarked on a six-month course of chemotherapy – 16 cycles – followed by major surgeries.
I didn’t know then that, according to World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer.
Neither did I know that up to one in 10 cases of breast cancer in Australia is linked to drinking alcohol, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
It took doing this research for me to find that it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol, what quality or what price – it’s all connected to increased risk of cancer.
And when I found that out, I thought of the young women I had seen on the chemo ward at Gold Coast University Hospital. I have no idea if they drank alcohol, but I couldn’t help but wonder.
The uncomfortable truth is that alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). This is the same classification as tobacco smoke, radiation and asbestos. Yes, asbestos – please let that sink in.
The second uncomfortable fact is that alcohol is understood to be linked to seven types of cancer – breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, larynx and colorectum. Most people aren’t aware of this connection.
Doesn’t this sound like something we should be talking about more?
One day, I hope alcohol – much like tobacco – will be understood as the dangerous, toxic substance it is.
I can’t know if this knowledge would have changed my drinking when I was younger. But I do believe we need to be armed with the facts. Now, I plan to shout about the link between alcohol and breast cancer with all my might.
Because it might just save a life.
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