Alcohol and the ‘Spread’ campaign FAQs
What is the ‘Spread’ campaign?
The Spread campaign conveys the message that alcohol causes cancer, including in the breast, liver, mouth, throat, and bowel; and every drink increases a person’s risk of developing alcohol-caused cancer. It depicts a glass of red wine falling over and spreading to illustrate the parts of the body where cancer occurs.
The ‘Spread’ campaign was developed by the Western Australian Department of Health in partnership with Cancer Council WA in 2010 and revised in 2020. It has received international recognition. ‘Spread’ has been found to be the ad most likely to motivate drinkers to reduce their alcohol use when compared to other alcohol education ads from around the world.
Why is Cancer Council NSW running this campaign?
Cancer Council NSW surveyed the community in 2019 and found that only just over half of the people we asked knew that alcohol use was linked to cancer. Cancer Council wants to inform the community about what we know about the causes of cancer and ways we can all reduce our risk.
Up until now there has been very little public discussion in NSW about the cancer risk linked to drinking alcohol. The Spread campaign has been effective in raising awareness of the link between alcohol use and cancer risk in Western Australia and Victoria.
Through an nib Foundation Health Smart Grant of $40,000 and a People’s Choice Health Smart Grant of $40,000 Cancer Council NSW is able to deliver this campaign.
How common is cancer caused by alcohol?
Our latest Australian estimates show 2.4% of cancer deaths (1,037 people) and 2.8% of cancer cases (almost 3,500 people) are linked to alcohol.
How does alcohol cause cancer?
There are several ways alcohol can cause cancer:
- Alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, which irritates cells in the body, particularly the mouth and throat. Over a long period, even with moderate drinking, this cell irritation can lead to cancer.
- When alcohol is digested it breaks down into compounds that damage cells and can cause cancer.
- Alcohol changes hormone levels, and that is linked to breast cancer.
- Alcohol can reduce folate absorption, which can result in changes in the cell, that makes it more likely for cancer to develop.
What are the Australian guidelines for alcohol use?
The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of alcohol-related cancers. Cancer Council recommends people drink less alcohol to reduce their risk of cancer. Those who do not drink should not take up drinking alcohol.
For people who do drink alcohol, they should follow the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines. Healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
What can I do if I want to cut down on my alcohol use?
A good place to start is to download the NSW Government ‘Drinks Meter’ smartphone application. The user-friendly app gives you confidential, personalised feedback about your alcohol use based on advice from doctors and the Australian guidelines to reduce health-related risks from alcohol. Download the app or read more on the NSW Health website.
If you’re looking for more support, the NSW Government also offers friendly health coaches you can speak to over the phone (confidentially), from the comfort of your own home from 8 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday. If you want to cut back on your alcohol intake a coach can help you make a plan and set achievable goals. They will share practical tools to change your habits and to overcome hurdles that stand in your way. See more details of the Get Healthy Information and Coaching Service.
Here are a few ways you can reduce your alcohol use:
- Have some alcohol-free days each week
- Count your drinks to keep track of how much you’re drinking
- Drink water to quench thirst
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or flavoured sparkling water
- Set yourself a limit and stop once you’ve reached it
- Switch to lower alcohol varieties or dilute alcoholic drinks with soda or mineral water.
But isn’t alcohol good for my heart?
While some studies suggest drinking alcohol in moderation benefits your heart, the evidence is not as strong as once thought. The Heart Foundation does not recommend that people drink alcohol for heart health.
There are other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, such as eating well, exercising regularly and not smoking. These habits also reduce your risk of cancer. And as for the antioxidants in red wine, eating many different plant foods provides a variety of antioxidants that can benefit health without harming it.