The acceptability of addressing alcohol consumption as a modifiable risk factor for breast cancer: a mixed method study within breast screening services and symptomatic breast clinics

Sinclair JMcCann MSheldon E, et al | 2019| The acceptability of addressing alcohol consumption as a modifiable risk factor for breast cancer: a mixed method study within breast screening services and symptomatic breast clinics| 
New research now published in the BMJ Open, recruited women attending NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) mammograms, symptomatic breast clinics and healthcare professionals in these settings, the study used a mixed-methods approach- interviews and surveys- to ask women about their knowledge and attitudes towards alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer.
The findings highlight that only 20 per cent of women in the sample recognised alcohol as a breast cancer risk factor, almost half of NHS staff identified it as a risk factor. 
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Objectives Potentially modifiable risk factors account for approximately 23% of breast cancers, with obesity and alcohol being the two greatest. Breast screening and symptomatic clinical attendances provide opportunities (‘teachable moments’) to link health promotion and breast cancer-prevention advice within established clinical pathways. This study explored knowledge and attitudes towards alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer, and potential challenges inherent in incorporating advice about alcohol health risks into breast clinics and screening appointments.

Design A mixed-method study including a survey on risk factors for breast cancer and understanding of alcohol content. Survey results were explored in a series of five focus groups with women and eight semi-structured interviews with health professionals.

Setting Women attending NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) mammograms, symptomatic breast clinics and healthcare professionals in those settings.

Participants 205 women were recruited (102 NHSBSP attenders and 103 symptomatic breast clinic attenders) and 33 NHS Staff.

Results Alcohol was identified as a breast cancer risk factor by 40/205 (19.5%) of attenders and 16/33 (48.5%) of staff. Overall 66.5% of attenders drank alcohol, and 56.6% could not estimate correctly the alcohol content of any of four commonly consumed alcoholic drinks. All women agreed that including a prevention-focussed intervention would not reduce the likelihood of their attendance at screening mammograms or breast clinics. Qualitative data highlighted concerns in both women and staff of how to talk about alcohol and risk factors for breast cancer in a non-stigmatising way, as well as ambivalence from specialist staff as to their role in health promotion.

Conclusions Levels of alcohol health literacy and numeracy were low. Adding prevention interventions to screening and/or symptomatic clinics appears acceptable to attendees, highlighting the potential for using these opportunities as ‘teachable moments’. However, there are substantial cultural and systemic challenges to overcome if this is to be implemented successfully.

Read the article in full from the BMJ Open

In the news:

BBC News Women not aware enough of breast cancer link to alcohol

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