Scottish Cancer Prevention Network | Putting Prevention First



Dry Drinking The Sociable Way

Every time I show the slide that says “35% of Scottish women aged over 50 drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week,” I am reminded that this includes me.  I would not describe myself as a heavy drinker, but I do drink more than I know is appropriate for my health. From my research on alcohol intake in women and breast cancer risk, I know that I am not alone in being reluctant to discuss the pleasure of red wine consumption with health professionals.

I certainly drink more than my mother did, and my daughters drink more than I do, so I feel the extra guilt of being a poor role model. To ease my conscience I have joined in dry January for the last 4 years, and ticked a box that says I can do without alcohol for 31 consecutive days. More and more people are joining this January fast, and this year I had the pleasure of a family event where 5 of the 8 guests were alcohol free. Work colleagues also joined in, as did a neighbour and friend…made life so much easier – but also easy to forget from February 1st onwards.




So – I thought I would try extending my dry habits through to the end of February, and that really wasn’t so easy.  It meant not drinking on New Year’s Day, a family weekend in London, Valentines Day, a wine tasting event and three days in France. I can do will power but I want a life!

However, will power alone runs dry pretty quickly in Scotland, where hospitality starts with a glass and ends with a glass. Still astounds me how many health conferences, meetings, receptions have free flowing wine – we really aren’t good at practicing what we preach!

But my extended sobriety this year meant I have had to develop some good strategies, preferably ones I could apply all year round.  So far, March has been pretty good with my new plan of action – here is how I have cut my alcohol intake by half:

  1. Find some good alcohol free beer.


    It’s worth the effort, and there are now lots to try. I have a (barking) favourite which just happens to be brewed in Scotland.

  2. Mocktails can be fun for those special occasions.


  3. Search and find good wines sold in half bottles.


    For years we have always squealed that half bottles are poor value for money but at the end of day the bills and the alcohol consumption are less!

  4. Share good finds with friends and funnily enough, they share back.


    Suddenly the tables are turned not how much has been drunk but how little, how low the bill, how good the morning after.

When I asked around about dry (or damp) January here are some of the responses:

My dry January did not start until the 14th for a variety of reasons.  I promised myself it would last until the 14th February.  And here I am, a pensioner on a rare treat, a first class train ride from Newcastle back to Dundee, on February 1st, and I am being offered lashings of free wine which, so far, I have managed to resist. 

– Male, aged 65


A few mouthfuls of wine get the taste…no need for more

– Female, aged 59


And from the money conscious young adult, a screenshot…



Finally, in February, our SCPN conference had two great sessions about alcohol. Dr Peter Rice from SHAAP gave an excellent overview of health and policy issues and a reminder of how there may be unintended consequences from the “sober month” approach about. The second presentation was from Lucy Rocca from Soberistas – an amazing presentation from an amazing lady and a great organisation.

No box ticking this year… its never enough!

Papers of the Year: Pancreatic Cancer

Once again we are nearing the end of the year, and here at the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network, we’ve invited our members, colleagues and regular SCPN Newsletter contributors to recommend what they have been reading on cancer prevention during 2016. We’ve asked each of them to recommend one paper which they thought would be valuable to share. This week our second instalment comes to us courtesy of Prof James Garden of Edinburgh University, we hope you enjoy.

Papers of the Year – Tipping The Scales: Why Preventing Obesity Makes Economic Sense

Once again December is upon us, and here at the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network, we’ve invited our members, colleagues and regular SCPN Newsletter contributors to recommend what they have been reading on cancer prevention during 2016. We asked each of them for one paper which they thought would be valuable to share and so kicking us off is Nicola Barnstable, Diane Primrose & The Detect Cancer Early Team, we hope you enjoy.

Title: Tipping The Scales: Why Preventing Obesity Makes Economic Sense

Continue reading “Papers of the Year – Tipping The Scales: Why Preventing Obesity Makes Economic Sense”

Our obesogenic, carcinogenic environment – a legacy for our children

The relationship between obesity and cancer has been well described…and well ignored! Exposure to excess body fat will contribute to increased risk of some of the most common cancers including bowel and breast. Yet, few agencies working in the cancer settings (including the NHS) bring this to the attention of the millions of people who are in contact with healthcare every day. Many think it is a duty of care for people to be given advice on how to “stack the odds” against cancer occurrence (and recurrence) and that we deny people the opportunity to be supported to reduce cancer risk.

Continue reading “Our obesogenic, carcinogenic environment – a legacy for our children”

Avoiding excess body fatness makes sense!

The recent IARC report on cancer prevention concludes that the absence of body fatness lowers cancer risk, and that intentional weight loss (based largely on research from animal studies) has a causal cancer preventive effect. Never too late to start weight management strategies…or indeed too early. Continue reading “Avoiding excess body fatness makes sense!”

Recognising and overcoming an alcohol addiction

We are very grateful to an SCPN member, now an independent researcher, for sharing this very personal but hopeful account of her struggle to overcome her problem drinking.

I am now in control of my drinking. It feels good to say that, yet somewhat uneasy, as it’s never a ‘done deal’. I started drinking at 18, and it has taken me 16 years to get to a place where I can say that without an inkling of guilt, without wincing at the odd indiscretion or blow out.

I started drinking heavily at University. I went to the University of Sussex, near Brighton, which is an amazing place to be a student! There were several on-campus bars, and there was one literally 30 paces from my shared accommodation. It was great to get to know new people, and the cheap snakebites were a great conversation facilitator. It was acceptable to go every evening after dinner; there was no judgement. It helped us bond at a time when that felt so monumentally important for all that lay ahead of us.

Continue reading “Recognising and overcoming an alcohol addiction”

Life skills for adult physical activity: The basics first…then Wimbledon!

The current recommendations for health, wellbeing and cancer risk reduction highlight the importance of physical activity. Sometimes people mistakenly refer to exercise when they mean physical activity, and therein lies the potential for a whole load of biased views, often stemming from negative experiences of sports and exercise in schooldays.

Continue reading “Life skills for adult physical activity: The basics first…then Wimbledon!”

Cutting Cancer Cases – Ready Steady Go!

More than two thousand years ago Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, noted that if we all had “the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health”. In general, all too few of us are following Hippocrates’ advice today.

In cancer terms, we know that 4 in 10 cancer cases in the UK could be prevented largely by changes to lifestyle. In this blog post I’ll be looking at one of these changes: being physically active. Continue reading “Cutting Cancer Cases – Ready Steady Go!”

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – What can we do to reduce our personal risk of bowel cancer?

As part of Bowel Cancer Awareness month, we’re running a series of mini-blogs from cancer experts . Here’s the next instalment from Dr Aileen Keel CBE.

I’d like to see greater public awareness of what individuals can do to reduce their personal risk of bowel cancer. Of course, an important part of that is taking part in the bowel screening programme.

Continue reading “Bowel Cancer Awareness Month – What can we do to reduce our personal risk of bowel cancer?”

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