Help us to stop bowel cancer

Our comment on new alcohol guidelines

Today the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have published new guidelines for alcohol consumption and warn that drinking any level of alcohol raises the risk of a range of cancers including bowel cancer.

The full extent of the links between alcohol and cancer were not previously understood when the original guidelines came out in 1995. The risks start from any level of regular drinking and rise with the amount being consumed. The new guidelines have been set at a level to keep the risk of death from cancers or other diseases low.

Key changes in the new guidelines are:

  • Men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same level as for women.  This compares with the previous guidelines of 21 units for men.
  • People are recommended not to 'save up' the 14 units for one or two days - but to spread them over three or more days. People who have one or two heavy drinking sessions each week increase the risk of death from long term illnesses and accidents and injuries.
  • For the first time, the guidelines also include advice on single episodes of drinking. To keep the short term health risks low the advice includes limit the total amount of alcohol drunk on any one occasion and drinking more slowly, with food and alternating with water

However, it was also recognised that it can be easier to follow advice with a simple number rather than to follow more general advice. The Department is therefore consulting on whether there should be a guideline for single occasion drinking based on a number of units.

On the same day the updated guidelines have been published, the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC), has published its latest findings, which back up the significant links from alcohol to cancer outlined by the UK CMOs.

The CoC review has found that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases the risk of some cancers compared with people who do not drink at all.

Ingrid Spickett, Head of Health Information at Bowel Cancer UK, said: "The new guidelines are further evidence to show that alcohol can increase the risk of many cancers, including bowel cancer. We would advise anyone looking to reduce their cancer risk to keep their alcohol consumption as low as possible and certainly within the recommended maximum of 14 units per week. Adopting a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise will also help to reduce the risk of bowel cancer."