Cancer risk: 1 bottle of wine equals to 5 to 10 cigarettes weekly?

Hope everyone is having a fantastic week. I’m not sure about you, but to me the week seems to have flown by so quickly!


Friday is already within sight and for most people, it usually means having a date night with your loved one, dinner with friends or even after-work drinks with your colleagues.


Being a pharmacist for more than 10 years, I know that getting sick mid-week can be a pain. You start off taking sick leave on the first day hoping that you will recover by Friday, only to find out that you do need to pay a visit to your family GP on Thursday as you’re not getting any better. To make things even worse, your doctor will somehow always manage to prescribe you with something that will clash with alcohol.


At this point, your mind starts to scream “I mean… come on!! It’s TGIF! Don’t I deserve some alcohol for getting through the week so swiftly?” I come across such tragedy every week and the worst part of being a pharmacist is that you’re always the person who bears the bad news to those looking forward to a tipple or two in the weekend.


It was no different for me today. I had to break the bad news to one of our regular patients.


I said to her: Look… brace yourself for impact. What I’m about to tell you might ruin your day or even for the rest of next week.


She said: Oh no…I’m having a feeling that I know what you’re about to tell me.


I replied: I’m sorry….yes you have to give up alcohol for the next 9 days….


She replied in disbelief: Why…..Why me?…. Why does it have to happen to me???????


I said: Yea…it is very unfortunate…. It’s just if you do drink while you are taking this antibiotic, you’ll feel very sick…


I further asked: I’m curious…how much do you drink?


She said: I try to have a glass of wine every night to “wind down” after work.


I then said: Let me guess, a bottle or 2 is usually mandatory for the weekend?


She said: Bingo!


I was quite concerned about the way she drinks. Based on my calculation, she probably drinks roughly around 22 stand drinks per week! That is quite a bit of alcohol considering the current recommended upper limits of drinking for females is 2 stand drinks daily and no more than 10 standard drinks per week and at least 2 days with no drinking.


For males, the upper limits are:


· 3 standard drinks daily, and


· No more than 15 standard drinks per week, and


· At lease 2 days with no drinking


The more I think about it, the more I understand why a lot of the people I come across drink quite a bit. It’s because drinking alcohol is an integral part of the social culture in New Zealand. All my friends who work in the corporate world have after-work drinks even on a work night. It is a way for them to socialise, mingle with each other and feel like they are part of the team.


According to the statistics, it’s estimated over half a million people in this country drink in a way that risk harming their health. The true number of people experiencing negative health issues due to drinking is likely to be higher than reported. Some studies have recently indicated that levels of alcohol consumption that were once considered by many to be relatively safe a few years ago are associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart and liver problems.


The problem is that many people in the community are likely to be unaware of this association.


This reminds me of a recent study I came across that compares the lifetime risk of developing cancer between alcohol and cigarettes.


The study indicates that for women, consuming 1 bottle of wine per week increased the absolute lifetime risk of cancer to the same extent as smoking 10 cigarettes a week.


Among men, drinking a bottle of wine per week lifted the absolute lifetime risk of cancer equivalent to smoking 5 cigarettes per week.


This is an interesting study because it is the only study to compare both cigarettes and alcohol and their respective cancer risk head to head.


However, it is important to bear in mind that this study aims to raise public awareness of the risk between alcohol and cancer. The association between alcohol and liver disease has long been established but the public is generally not aware that alcohol is the fifth leading cause of cancer.


Some of you might ask me – what is the safe level of drinking?


Quite frankly, there is no level of alcohol intake is completely without risk. It is important to keep in mind that all the guidelines are intended for the “average” person. Since many of us are not considered “average”, hence the best way to take this is to take a personalised approach to find the safe level of drinking. I would suggest that you speak to your GP to determine how much alcohol is too much for you.


There are some situations in which no level of drinking is considered the best approach. Here are some of the circumstances in which you are best to stop taking alcohol:


· You plan to drive


· You are pregnant or planning to become pregnant


· You have medical conditions such as liver disease or heart conditions


· You are taking certain medications that can interact with alcohol


If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, please talk to me. We can sit down and carry out a simple assessment to see if you are drinking one too many.


To you and your family’s health,