Researchers in Southampton are working with women across the region to raise awareness of the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer and develop a new app to help reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with one in eight women likely to be diagnosed at some point in their lifetime – but around 25% of cases could be prevented through simple lifestyle changes, including reducing the amount of alcohol people drink.
Whilst it’s widely recognised that smoking can cause cancer, a recent study by the Southampton team showed that less than 20% of women were aware that drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer.
Researchers in Southampton are leading a pioneering project to raise awareness of the link between breast cancer and alcohol by incorporating alcohol awareness into routine breast clinics and mammogram screening appointments, and developing a web-based app.
Dr Julia Sinclair and Dr Ellen Copson, both clinical academics working at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and at the University of Southampton, are leading the ‘Abreast of Health’ study which aims to give women the tools to record the amount of alcohol they consume and receive feedback.
“Many women are unaware that the risk of developing breast cancer increases with every unit of alcohol consumed. We want to empower women to know what they are drinking and to allow them to make more informed choices,” said Dr Sinclair.
“Also, strengths of alcohol and sizes of glasses have increased and lots of people say ‘I only have one glass of wine which is one unit, isn’t it’, but that’s often a large glass or about 250ml at 14% which will be three to four units of alcohol – so people are often drinking far more than they think,” she continued.
A new app for breast cancer
Previous research shows that people are more receptive to health advice and are more likely to make positive changes when they face significant health events – such as being investigated for a possible illness.
So, when women come to a breast clinic appointment after they’ve found a lump (95% of whom will be given the all clear), it’s a really good time to provide advice and say ‘here are some things you could do to maximise your breast health for the future’.
Knowing this, the Abreast of Health team are using breast screening and clinic appointments to understand what information is needed and what tools, such as an app, will help women to reduce their alcohol consumption.
Dr Sinclair said: “We’re using these conversations to help develop a new app specifically designed for this audience as most apps available at the moment are designed for people at higher risk of drinking or who are alcohol-dependent.
“We’d like to develop something that will work as a long-term motivational tool to reduce alcohol consumption and help reduce the risk of breast cancer amongst women.”
Success so far
The 18-month programme, which is being funded by the Medical Research Council, is already proving successful having recruited over 800 women so far – making it the best cancer recruiting study in England in 2017.
For more information, please visit the study website.
Posted on Wednesday 24 January 2018