The news may be tough to hear for many drinkers, but the British government recently unveiled new recommendations for alcohol consumption. The recommendations suggest fewer drinks per weeks than have past recommendations.
What are the new guidelines? What is the reasoning behind them? And does this new announcement signal a global change in recommended alcohol intake? Let’s find out.
Stick to Two Drinks a Day
The basic new National Health Service (NHS) advice is that regular drinkers should stick to 14 drinks per week. This has long been the standard advice given to women, but it now applies to men as well. Luckily, regular drinkers can still safely get some of their evening drinking in; 14 drinks per week averages out to 2 a night. Not too bad. And since men and women now get the same recommendations, sticking to this schedule will be easier for couples to stick to.
Pace Yourself Over the Course of a Week
Regular moderate drinking is still preferred over quick binges. It would not be safe to have seven drinks twice a week, for instance. Binge drinking is never safe or advisable. Bingeing is associated with high risks of long-term health problems, and it leads to greatly increased risks of accidents, falls, and other physical damages that come with drunkenness.
The NHS advises drinker to pace themselves, to consume food with alcohol, and to alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic drinks. This will prevent drunkenness and encourage a huge variety of healthy lifestyle choices.
Pregnant Women Should Avoid Alcohol Completely
If you’re pregnant, you should cut out drinking completely. Everything you consume will filter down to your unborn child, and your future child’s body is not yet up to the challenge of dealing with alcohol. You wouldn’t give beer to a toddler, and you should give one to a fetus.
This advice is, of course, not new. Pregnant women have been told for years to avoid alcohol, but the new guidelines reiterate this important point.
Why Were the Guidelines Changed?
Governments have been offering drinking advice for decades, so why has the NHS recently changed its tune? Science always improves on itself, and more data means that public health experts are always improving their knowledge and advice. The NHS had not updated its policy in about twenty years, so researchers figured it was time for a fresh look at the guidelines that included more information. They took that look, and the new guidelines are the result.
What About Other Governments?
Every government in the world offers drinking advice. Why should you be paying attention to the NHS’s guidelines, especially if you’re not a British citizen?
The UK’s guidelines are much more limiting than most of the world’s governments’, at least for men (14 per week is a common recommendation for women around the world). One thing the British research takes into account is the link between alcohol and cancer. 21 drinks per week may not be immediately dangerous for men, but it may increase risks for many cancers.
For decades, the future for mesothelioma patients has been bleak. The lung cancer that is related to exposure to asbestos typically affects anyone who worked with or in close quarters with asbestos containing materials. “Shipyard workers and Navy veterans are at a high risk of developing mesothelioma,” says Belluck & Fox, “since many of those individuals lived and worked on navy vessels that asbestos containing materials such as insulation and heating/cooling systems.”
On Navy vessels, in particular, the work and living spaces are cramped and ship workers and Navy seamen were likely to breathe in the asbestos particles when they moved, fixed or even brushed up against any component that contained asbestos. At the time, basically anytime before the 1970’s, no one really knew of the dangers of being in contact with the cancer causing materials. Unfortunately, the damage that asbestos causes doesn’t appear until decades later when individuals find out they have an aggressive form of lung cancer and often times, there’s little that can be done.
Promising New Drugs
Up until recently, the only available treatments for mesothelioma was surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and even those have had less than promising results. Many patients opt for treatment in hopes of relieving some of the pain, while others (doubtful of any hope) reject treatment of any kind.
In October of 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two new immunotherapy drugs, Keytruda and Opdivo, to be used to fight malignant pleural mesothelioma (or the mesothelioma that affects the lungs). Both drugs were currently used to treat and fight other forms of cancers, but seemed promising for mesothelioma patients with the shortest rates of survival.
Keytruda and Opdivo target PD-1 and PD-L1, specific proteins that block an immune system from attacking cancer cells, these proteins were found in patients with aggressive forms of mesothelioma and who had been given the shortest survival time.
How It’s Being Used in Treatment
While each drug has shown promising results when used on its own, Keytruda and Opdivo are most effective when used with other drugs as secondary treatment in eliminating any remaining cancer cells after surgery, for example.
Since mesothelioma and lung cancer are different because of the way that mesothelioma forms in the lungs. Over time, years after asbestos exposure, cancerous masses cover a large area of the lungs and the ability to separate healthy or cancerous cells is almost impossible. Lung cancer on the other hand can occur from many different types of exposures and doesn’t necessarily spread the same way mesothelioma does. Despite the differences, researchers are confident that Keytruda and Opdivo, with their immunotherapy capabilities, will start to make small changes and hope for mesothelioma patients who have wanted assuming that there’s little option of survival.
While some individuals with mesothelioma may not be recommended for treatment using Keytruda or Opdivo, it may be particularly promising and hopeful for individuals who have otherwise been given a small window of survival. As with all cancer treatments, nothing is guaranteed, but after years of little promise, Keytruda and Opdivo may just be the key to stopping mesothelioma from spreading.
How to Recognize Early Symptoms
While it’s true that it isn’t always easy to detect cancer in its early stages, early diagnosis is a huge advantage in treatment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to inform yourself of cancer’s possible warning signs to help you look out for the health of yourself and your loved ones. The American Cancer Society provides a checklist of some general red flags to watch out for:
- Change in bowel/bladder habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent fever or fatigue
- Obvious changes in the shape/color/size of birthmarks, moles or sores, or general changes in one’s skin: itching, redness, etc.
This list is designed to reflect a variety of cancers. However, there’s no need to panic if you think you exhibit one of the signs, as none of these are anything like surefire. It’s also not a comprehensive list–you should also get checked if you display more specific indicators such as: lumps in the breast or testicle tissue, sores in your mouth that do not quickly heal, frequent nausea or headaches, or fluid in the lungs (this last could be a sign of mesothelioma). Since cancer can develop nearly anywhere in the body, its signs and symptoms are highly variable. If you have experienced one of these symptoms for two weeks or more, it’s better to be safe than sorry and see a doctor, as early detection can greatly improve one’s prognosis.
What You Need to Know About Screenings
Because of the advantages of early detection for many types of cancer, even if you have no symptoms, your doctor will likely want to perform several screenings. The most common screenings are:
- Colonoscopies (colorectal cancer screenings). For people at average risk, these are recommended yearly between the ages of 50 and 75.
- Mammograms (breast cancer screenings). These are recommended for women between the ages of 40 and 74.
- Low-dose helical computed tomography (lung cancer screenings). Thesre are generally recommended only for smokers between the ages of 55 and 74.
- Pap smears (cervical cancer and HPV screenings). These are recommended for all women aged 21-65.
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend others, such as blood tests, skin exams, and breast MRI’s. Depending on family history, some people may even benefit from genetic testing. However, more screenings are not necessarily better, and some actually have associated risks. Colonoscopies, for example, can cause tears in the lining of the colon. In addition, both false-positive and false-negative results are possible.
In some cases, the cancer never actually displays serious symptoms—the patient could have lived quite happily without the detection and subsequent treatment of the disease. Since there are many factors involved, your decisions about screenings should be tailored to your situation and made in consultation with your doctor. Remember that when your doctor suggests a screening, it is purely preventative; it does not mean you have cancer. If you take the proper, informed preventative steps, you increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Computed tomography (CT) scans can help doctors to avoid missing or delaying a diagnosis of cancer or other serious medical conditions. However, the exposure to ionizing radiation that these tests involve may, at the same time, increase a patient’s risk of developing cancer.
This why many doctors and organizations are calling for patients to learn more and discuss the risks and benefits of a CT scan with their doctor before they undergo one, as ABC News/Health.com recently reported.
According to the article, CT scans have become increasingly used by doctors to check a patient for cancer due to the fact that they are cheaper and faster than MRIs or exploratory surgery and provide more detail than traditional X-rays. Between 1980 and 2013, the number of CT scans performed each year in the U.S. soared from around 3 million to 76 million, the article states.
However, a patient undergoing a CT scan generally receives a high dose of ionizing radiation. While the body can repair damage caused by small doses of radiation, the high dosage in a CT scan is one that simply overwhelms the body’s “repair mechanisms,” potentially leading to cancer, the article states.
The cancer risk is higher if a patient undergoes multiple CT scans, and women may face a higher possibility of developing cancer from the radiation than men, according to ABC News/Health.com.
The report cites a 2009 National Cancer Institute study which found that 29,000 future cases of cancer could result from 72 million CT scans that were performed in the U.S. in 2007.
Cardiologists Call for Patient-Doctor Discussion About CT Scans
As Reuters reports, several medical organizations issued a statement in September2014 in the medical journal, Circulation, which urged doctors to carefully discuss the risks and benefits of chest CT scans with their patients and to explain to patients why a CT scan was being used in their case.
Ultimately, a patient and doctor must “share” the decision to go forward with the test, according to the statement, which was signed by organizations that included the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.
Dr. Andrew J Einstein of Columbia University in New York told Reuters that patients should not necessarily be “scared off” by the discussion or refuse undergoing what could be a potentially life-saving test.
Still, Einstein said, “As doctors, it is our obligation to make sure that we, our colleagues and our patients understand the potential benefits of a medical imaging study as well as potential risks,” according to Reuters.
Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor
If you are suffering symptoms of cancer or any other serious medical condition, your doctor may tell you that he or she would like to order a CT scan. Before you agree to undergo the test, ask your doctor:
- What specific symptoms make the CT scan necessary?
- Could alternatives such as X-rays, MRIs or ultrasounds be used instead, and how do those alternatives compare to a CT scan in terms of risks and benefits? You may also ask about how the alternatives compare in terms of cost and the amount of time involved to perform each one.
- If a CT scan is needed, what is the typical dosage of radiation for such a scan and/or the actual dosage that will be used in this specific test?
- Will there be additional CT scans? If so, how many more tests? What are the risks and benefits of multiple CT scans?
The bottom line is that you have the right, as a patient, to have as much information as possible about the tests your doctor orders you to undergo. Ultimately, if you find that the risks outweigh the benefits, you have a right to withhold consent and seek a second medical opinion.