Let’s talk about alcohol and cancer

As a new campaign aims to reduce alcohol use amongst Western Australians, WA Primary Health Alliance is encouraging general practitioners to speak openly with their patients about the patient’s level of alcohol consumption.

The new Alcohol.Think Again campaign, titled Spread, is a collaborative initiative between the Mental Health Commission and Cancer Council WA.

It shines a light on the fact that alcohol is a cause of cancer in at least seven sites of the body, including in the breast, liver, mouth, throat and bowel, and that every drink increases a person’s risk of developing alcohol-caused cancer.

Earlier this year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that women in their 50s and males between 55 to 64 were the most likely to exceed lifetime risk guidelines by consuming on average more than two standard drinks per day.

While general practitioners and their older patients share a high degree of trust, initiating a respectful, yet clinical, conversation with a patient about their level of alcohol consumption can be difficult.

To assist in starting these conversations, WA Primary Health Alliance, in partnership with local addiction specialists, general practitioners and Sushi Productions, has developed a series of short online video resources to help GPs have respectful conversations about alcohol and other drug use with older patients.

Videos feature case scenarios for GPs including a patient presenting with a recent fall and insomnia, a patient using substances to manage anxiety and chronic pain, and a patient discharged from hospital with acute pancreatitis.

The suite of resources also includes a brief presentation by Dr Norman Swan of why and how to talk to older patients,and a panel interview with local experts, including Dr Allan Quigley and Dr Fiona Sluchniak, exploring safe consumption levels, referral options, health implications, residential aged care and pharmacotherapies.

WAPHA Primary Health Alliance CEO, Learne Durrington, said the impact of alcohol-caused cancer on Western Australian individuals, families, communities and health system was significant.

“In 2017 cancer accounted for the biggest proportion of all alcohol attributable deaths in Western Australia,” she said.

“The research tells us that older drinkers would reduce their consumption if they believed it would be beneficial to their health and if their doctor advised them to do so.

“Older people are the greatest consumers of health services and GPs have a high degree of trust with patients in these age brackets.

“GPs are ideally placed for initiating conversations around alcohol or other drug use with their older patients.”

GPs across WA also have access to the Practitioner Online Referral and Treatment Services (PORTS) and HealthPathways alcohol intervention guide, providing  clinical tools, referral pathways and treatments options to support patients with alcohol and other drug concerns.

For additional professional development and skill based techniques, GPs and other health professionals can also access the Treating Alcohol and Drugs in Primary Care Education Program, the Rural Australian College of General Practitioners’ alcohol and other drugs GP program and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine’s drug and alcohol addiction education program.

The program includes face-to-face education sessions, short video lectures and webinars on general and specific alcohol and drug topics.

To learn more about the Alcohol.Think Again campaign and download resources you can share on your communication channels, visit alcoholthinkagain.com.au