Many people are unaware of the link between alcohol and cancer, a poll has found.
Some 86% of more than 2,000 people surveyed said they did not know that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
More than a third (34%) had never been asked how much they drink by health professionals, 66% did not know of the link between alcohol and bowel cancer and 59% did not realise it can increase the risk of stroke.
Meanwhile, 58% of people did not know of the link between alcohol and mouth or throat cancer, although 59% knew it was associated with depression and 58% knew it had an effect on fertility.
The poll was carried out by the charity Alcohol Concern to launch its Dry January campaign.
Director of campaigns Emily Robinson said: "It's all too easy to slip into unhealthy habits and find that you're drinking alcohol at a level which can put you at risk for a range of illnesses such as cancer and stroke.
"These survey results show we are still not having the right conversation about alcohol."
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A lump or swelling anywhere on your body needs checking out
AXA’s research found that 79% of people were able to correctly identify breast lumps as a potential indicator of cancer. But a lump or swelling in any part of the body, including the armpit, neck, abdomen, groin or chest area, is worth having checked by a doctor.
Talk about your toilet habits
Diarrhoea or changes in bowel habits are most likely to be caused by a stomach bug or eating something that disagrees with you. But if you’re noticing changes that have lasted more than a few days, for example if your bowel movements are looser for three weeks or more, or you notice any blood when you’ve been to the toilet, then make an appointment to get it checked out.
Sores and ulcers should disappear quickly – investigate them if they don’t
A lot of people get mouth ulcers when their immune system is low or they’re stressed. Generally they’re nothing to worry about and, as the lining of the mouth regenerates itself every couple of weeks, shouldn’t last long. But any ulcer that hasn’t healed after three weeks merits attention from your doctor or dentist. The same goes for any sore or spot that lasts for several weeks without healing – get it checked by a doctor.
Difficult passing urine – not just an inevitable consequence of age
Many men find it more difficult to pass urine as they get older, needing to go more often or urgently or being unable to go when they need to. These problems are usually caused by an enlarged prostate, which is a common condition that is not in itself cause for concern. But occasionally these symptoms can be a sign of prostate cancer – either way, men experiencing these symptoms should see their GP. Similarly, while urinary tract infections are the most likely cause of women having pain or difficulty passing urine, this should pass relatively quickly. If it doesn’t, then any sudden urges to pass urine or the need to go more often should be discussed with your doctor.
Lost weight without dieting?
It’s natural for most people’s weight to fluctuate over time. But if you haven’t instigated any changes in your diet or exercise regime and have obviously lost weight, then talk to your doctor. And if you’re experiencing heavy night sweats you should seek medical advice – these don’t always have a sinister cause, and can be brought about by certain infections or medications, but they’re worth checking.
Coughing up blood needs to be checked out
If you’ve coughed up any blood, you should see your doctor, regardless of the amount of blood or frequency. It can be a sign of lung cancer, so needs to be checked out.
Coughs and sore throats
Most of us will experience coughs or croaky voices at some point, normally when we’ve had a cold. But as with many other changes to your body, anything that hasn’t gone away after three weeks or so should be investigated.
Educate yourself on what to look out for
AXA’s research found women were more likely than men to identify key cancer warning signs, including breast lumps, changes in bowel habits and irregular moles. But for both men and women, ensuring you’re aware of symptoms to keep an eye out for is important. Knowledge is power: understanding what you’re looking for means you can any changes checked out quickly.
Know your own body
AXA’s research found only 6% of men and 3% of women check their bodies daily for anything unusual. But understanding what’s normal for your own body is essential if you’re to spot when anything has changed. If you do notice changes that are persisting for a long time, or causing you pain and discomfort, then see your GP.
Don’t put off seeing the doctor!
A sizeable 61% of people AXA spoke to admitted they’d delayed seeing their doctor when they spotted changes that could be potential flags for cancer. But early detection of any problems can make a huge difference if any treatment is then needed. Similarly, if changes are harmless your doctor will be able to reassure you. Overall, the sooner you go to see your GP, the better.
Emily adds: "Dry January is aimed at people who do not have an alcohol problem but who might be drinking a bit too much, too often.
"Having the break allows us all to think about what we're drinking, break those bad habits and in the long term cut down and improve our health."