Breast cancer has several risk factors, in particular age and genetics. Drinking alcohol is also a significant risk factor but evidence suggests that some women aren’t aware of it. Considering a rising prevalence of risky drinking among middle-aged and older women, a recent study conducted at a breast screening clinic in Melbourne aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a brief alcohol education and awareness intervention. They wanted to improve awareness of alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer and potentially reduce alcohol consumption among women attending routine breast screening.
The study was a randomised controlled trial of women aged 40 years or older who attended the clinic for mammography between February and August 2021. Of the more than 500 participants, 82 per cent said they recently consumed alcohol. They were divided into two groups: an ‘active arm’ and a ‘control arm”.
The active arm watched a four-minute animation that included a brief alcohol intervention, followed by a three-minute lifestyle health promotion. The control arm just watched the three-minute lifestyle health promotion.
Before the study, only one fifth of participants were aware that alcohol use increased the risk of breast cancer. But four weeks after the intervention, there was a significant increase in the proportion of people who identified alcohol as a clear risk factor for breast cancer.
In the active intervention group, awareness rose to 65 per cent, while the control group also saw an increase, though it was lower, to 38 per cent. But they also looked at whether people changed their alcohol consumption because of this knowledge, finding that there was no reduction in the use of alcohol in the weeks following the intervention for either group.
The intervention was useful in raising awareness and knowledge about the connection between alcohol and breast cancer. But it didn’t make a measurable change to what people did. This is often the case for interventions targeting knowledge, attitudes and behaviour and suggests either that women accept some risk related to alcohol or that more work is needed to help enable real-world reductions in alcohol consumption.