Category Archives: News

Alcohol Consumption Directly Linked to Breast Cancer in Woman, Age and Quantity Play Major Factors


According to a report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the group lists breast cancer as one of the primary types of cancer directly linked to alcohol consumption. Most women have one in eight chances of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. Taking every preventive measure possible is one way to lower your risk, and a good place to start is looking at your booze intake. While at what age a woman starts drinking is just one factor that is associated with breast cancer, how she drinks is also another primary factor.

Any potentially cancerous cells are growing at a fast pace and multiplying, making the young adult years important time for risk reduction. “For a woman’s teenage years to her first pregnancy, her breast cells undergo rapid profiferation,” says Heidi Memmel, MD, a breast surgeon. “Breast cancer risk accumulates across a woman’s lifespan, but the most rapid accumulation occurs around the time a woman has her first period to her first pregnancy.” After pregnancy, a woman’s breast tissue undergoes biologic changes that make the cells more cancer-resistant. This helps explain why women who have children later in life or do not have children at all are at higher risk, says Dr. Memmel.

Dr. Memmel further says there is a significant increase in breast cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption before age 30, especially if the woman began drinking at an early age. While the link between alcohol and breast cancer isn’t completely clear, she says, the prevailing theory is that alcohol affects circulating estrogen and estrogen receptors in the breast tissue. “The products of alcohol metabolism in the body are also thought to potentially play a role in breast tumour cell growth,” says Dr. Memmel. “Alcohol is causally related to the risk of breast cancer, with a seven to 10% increased risk for each drink of alcohol consumed daily,” says Dr. Liu, a researcher and assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine.

The age at which a woman begins drinking is only one part of the equation. How she drinks also factors into risk. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is when women have four or more drinks in two hours is problematic. “Women who report seven drinks on the weekend, but no alcoholic drinks during the week have a higher risk than women who have one drink per night”, explains Dr. Memmel “Because much youth alcohol consumption is in the form of binge drinking, many young women are unknowingly putting themselves at higher risk of developing breast cancer.” The CDC reports that one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month.

By Sania Dhirwani

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How dad’s pre-conception health can affect the baby, too

Pregnant woman

By Jacqueline Howard,

(CNN) Many moms-to-be know that their health even before they become pregnant — known as pre-conception health — can affect the health of their babies.

Now, research is continuing to show that the pre-conception health of fathers also can influence a pregnancy and the baby.
Three papers published Monday in the journal The Lancet detail how the health of both women and men, before they even conceive a child, can have profound impacts on the health of their offspring — such as birth weight and brain development.
“This is a really important series, and it is important because it helps further re-establish the importance of pre-conception care as a legitimate direction for improving birth outcomes and improving health in children, both at the time of birth but also over their life course,” said Milton Kotelchuck, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the new papers.
“Really, almost all of the important epigenetics, all the important embryologic development, takes place in the first few weeks of the pregnancy. That’s when lots of the really key things are happening before people even know they’re pregnant,” he said. “Your brain development, your entire spine, all the nerves are developed in the first couple of weeks.”

When is ‘pre-conception’?

The first of the three papers turns a spotlight on when the pre-conception period begins and ends and how it’s a time when many parents might not even realize that their health can influence their baby’s.
“Certainly, the last three to six months before you attempt to conceive really need to be focused on improving or making sure you maintain quality health,” said Dr. Haywood Brown, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine and president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who was not involved in the new papers.
The first paper calls for the pre-conception period to be redefined according to three perspectives: biological, individual and public health.
Based on the biological perspective, the pre-conception period would be defined as the days to weeks before an embryo develops, but from the individual perspective, the pre-conception period would begin as soon as a couple has a conscious intention to conceive, typically weeks to months before pregnancy occurs, according to the paper.
Based on the public perspective, the pre-conception period would encompass the months or years it takes to address pre-conception risk factors related to diet, lifestyle and chronic diseases such as obesity or diabetes, according to the paper.
For example, “men who are obese have a higher chance of having decreased sperm count,” Brown said.
In women, “obesity is a risk factor for congenital birth defects. It’s associated with congenital heart defects. … Obesity also increases risk for things like developing preeclampsia and developing diabetes, and so in that sense, they affect the health of the baby,” he said. “We also know that people who are extremely underweight also have a higher risk of babies being small, and so there’s an extreme on both ends.”

Vancouver women recount different paths to sobriety


Karen has been sober for about two years, and credits her new life to a 12-step program. Photograph By DAN TOULGOET

John Kurucz / Vancouver Courier

Ang’s crutch was schmoozing.

As someone who works in the entertainment and hospitality industries, she’s done a lot of it.

Those situations almost always included a glass of wine. The glass soon became a bottle, and over time the visual evidence of where her life was going quite literally started to pile up.

“I’m a smart person,” Ang told the Courier. “As I would see the bottles pile up over the course of the week, I said to myself, ‘This is probably a little over the top.’ Slowly over time it became somewhat more of a crutch, where I found I was drinking every night.”

Karen, on the other hand, traces her relationship with alcohol back 25 years. She had just started high school and stopped playing organized sports.

The bottle replaced the ball, the team and the camaraderie.

“That’s when everything shifted for me,” she said.

Karen and Ang both spoke to the Courier on the condition of anonymity. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and both women are at different places in their paths to sobriety.

They’re linked, however, by disturbing stats that suggest alcoholism is on the rise for women in particular. Numbers published in March by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggest women with drinking problems were less likely than men to receive advice (11.7 per cent compared to 19.3 per cent).

The Canadian Cancer Society notes that one drink per day increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by up to 13 per cent. Stats Canada suggests binge drinking among women is on the rise, almost on a yearly basis.

Although they’ve taken different paths to do so, Ang and Karen are resolute in their efforts to not be a statistic.

“There’s this weird saddle that is put on women,” said Karen, 38. “You’re going to be a mother, you’re going to be taking care of babies, but you’re not going to be the breadwinner. Instead, you’re faced with pressure, isolation and you’re going to have this mom culture thing around you. There are a lot of women drinking by themselves at home.”

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Drinking an extra glass of wine ‘will shorten your life by 30 minutes’


Drinking will shorten your life, according to a study that suggests every glass of wine or pint of beer over the daily recommended limit will cut half an hour from the expected lifespan of a 40-year-old.

Those who think a glass of red wine every evening will help keep the heart healthy will be dismayed. The paper, published in the Lancet medical journal, says five standard 175ml glasses of wine or five pints a week is the upper safe limit – about 100g of alcohol, or 12.5 units in total. More than that raises the risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm (a ruptured artery in the chest), heart failure and death.

The risks for a 40-year-old of drinking over the recommended daily limit were comparable to smoking, said one leading scientist. “Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” said David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge.

“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life. This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.

“Of course, it’s up to individuals whether they think this is worthwhile.”

There is still a small benefit to drinking, which has been much flagged in the past. It does reduce the chance of a non-fatal heart attack. But, said Dr Angela Wood, from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the study, “this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases.”

The big international study supports the new UK recommended limits of a maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women, which were fiercely contested when introduced by England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, in 2016. Other countries with higher limits should reduce them, it suggests. They include Italy, Portugal and Spain as well as the US, where for men the recommended limit is almost double.

The study included data from nearly 600,000 current drinkers included in 83 studies carried out in 19 countries. About half the participants reported drinking more than 100g per week, and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week. Early deaths rose when more than 100g per week, which is five to six glasses of wine or pints of beer, was consumed.

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National Post: More than a million Canadians could have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, study

By Vanessa Hrvatin

Many children with FASD are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. ‘One of the risk groups is actually professional women who binge drink’

A new report found up to three per cent of Canadians could have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun

Up to three per cent of Canadians — or about one million people — could have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and researchers say this is probably an underestimate.

A report released on Tuesday by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health upends current estimates of the prevalence of FASD prevalence in Canada to date. The results are based on a survey of 2,555 seven- to nine-year-olds in the Greater Toronto Area, one of the largest sample sizes used in a Canadian study and according to the team’s lead researcher, Dr. Svetlana Popova, the first survey reflective of Canada’s diverse population.

“We are more confident now,” she says, that “FASD can happen to anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status.”

Previous Canadian studies on FASD have focused on narrow groups such as kids in care. They have also relied on medical records to estimate the prevalence of the disorder.

But as Popova explains, many children with FASD are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. So her team — which included leading geneticists, psychologists and paediatricians — independently assessed each student.

Mothers also filled out questionnaires regarding alcohol consumption, although Popova and other experts believe the stigma of drinking during pregnancy may have discouraged some women from accurately reporting their intake (or participating in surveys at all).

Previous estimates of the prevalence of FASD hovered around one per cent. The survey by Popova and her team suggests it may be more common than autism spectrum disorders, which according to a recent report affects 1.5 to two percent of young people in Canada.

Popova’s study also suggests that the risk of FASD is not confined to marginalized groups.

“One of the risk groups is actually professional women who binge drink,” says Deborah Goodman, the director of the Child Welfare Institute at Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. “It’s easy to keep at a distance and say, ‘That’s not me — it relates only to those in poverty and despair,’ but that’s just not the case with FASD. It’s an equal opportunity brain injury.”

Goodman says children as young as 12 need to be educated about the potential consequences of alcohol. A larger cultural shift among adults is vital as well.

“Look at the prevalence of alcohol — it’s not just in the low income areas, alcohol is consumed by all strata of society,” she says. “So in tackling FASD it actually means tackling the bigger problem of ‘let’s get together and have a drink,’ which is part of our culture.”

There is no safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, says Popova. The impact of prenatal alcohol exposure depends on several factors, including the amount of alcohol a fetus is exposed to, the genetics passed on by both parents and other environmental influences.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe form of the disorder, and can include growth deficits, problems with coordination, visual motor difficulties, significant developmental delays, attention deficit and hyperactivity. The mildest disorder on the spectrum, which may also cause behavioral and cognitive difficulties, is alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder.

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What do you think of this…’IMO calls for alcohol testing in pregnancy to reduce foetal alcohol syndrome in Ireland’

What are your thoughts on the direction the Irish Medical Organisation may be taking in regards to prenatal alcohol consumption?

As an FASD prevention project, we understand that women do not consume alcohol with the intent on harming their children. FASD prevention needs to support addressing and eliminating the factors that contribute to alcohol-use when pregnant (for example, poverty, domestic violence, mental health concerns) and ensure that they do not blame or shame women in an understanding that FASD prevention is everyone’s responsibility.


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IMO calls for alcohol testing in pregnancy to reduce foetal alcohol syndrome in Ireland

Expectant Irish mothers should be screened for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, doctors believe. It follows revelations that Ireland is in the top three countries worldwide for incidence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), including foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

A screening programme for pregnant women would be ethical, the annual Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) conference was told this weekend. A motion calling for its introduction was proposed by Dr Mary O’Mahony, a public health specialist, and passed unanimously by delegates.

“Women need to own the public health imperative that pregnancy be alcohol-free to prevent foetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” O’Mahony said at the meeting in Killarney.

“The goal of this motion is to ensure that every woman’s pregnancy is supported to be free from alcohol, to prevent…

Without screening or supports, offenders with FASD face revolving door of justice

Without screening or supports, offenders with FASD face revolving door of justice

TRC called for reforms to address needs of offenders with FASD, and for prevention to be made a priority

By Kelly Malone, CBC News


Russ Hilsher’s criminal record goes back more than a decade, to an assault charge in 2003. The 40-year-old has been in and out of jail for breaching conditions, other assaults and theft since.

On paper, Hilsher’s background tells a different story than the one the father of two talks about when he explains how he struggles to understand rules, laws and how to interact with police.

Originally from Ghost River, near the mouth of the Cheepay River in northeastern Ontario, Hilsher’s birth mother drank during her pregnancy. He was taken from her soon after and was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as a baby.

As a teenager he landed in a foster home in Winnipeg and struggled to adapt to city life. Hilsher often has a wide smile on his face, but his eyes take on a serious expression when he explains how he interprets the world differently. When Hilsher was younger, if he saw something on the street he would take it. He didn’t think it was theft.

“Like you guys [who don’t have FASD] are knowing it’s not yours, but to someone who has FASD it’s just lying there, so it has to be mine. Why can’t it be mine, right?” Hilsher said.

Eventually that landed him behind bars. Hilsher said the routine and structure of prison worked for his FASD but it also meant he was sharing a space with people who were taking advantage of him. Hilsher said that he would just say “Yes” when people asked him to do things and he would end up getting in trouble, not really understanding that we he had done was not OK.

“It’s almost like if I could [serve my time] by myself in my own little space I would be alright,” he said.

In the prisons and jails it’s easy to mistake somebody’s behaviour as antisocial or oppositional when it’s really a result of having FASD, said Howard Sapers, the independent advisor on corrections reform to the Ontario provincial government and former Correctional Investigator of Canada. And in prison when people don’t follow orders or don’t seem to learn from mistakes, they face more discipline.

“This just creates a very, very negative cycle. And it just reinforces bad behaviour,” Sapers said.

The first thing to do in corrections is to recognize that FASD is a real and profound issue, Sapers said.

Pregnant belly

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a brain injury that is caused when a mother drinks alcohol while pregnant. (Radio-Canada)

Signs of FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a brain injury that is caused when a fetus is exposed to alcohol. It is the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability in Canada, affecting at least one per cent of Canadians, according to Health Canada.

FASD can range from mild to severe. Some people show physical signs, like a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip and a smaller head, but many of the conditions associated with FASD are cognitive and those can “have important legal and practical implications for the criminal justice system,” the Correctional Investigator’s annual report said in 2015.

Many people with FASD have difficulty understanding the consequences of their behaviour, struggle to connect cause and effect, have impulsivity, drug or alcohol problems and struggle to learn from mistakes.

Research is not clear just how large the impact of FASD is in Indigenous communities but a link has been established between substance abuse and people who went to residential schools or were separated from families through the Sixties Scoop — Indigenous children who were removed from their families and adopted to non-Indigenous families — along with the generations that followed them.

Research suggests up to a quarter of inmates in federal corrections could have FASD. But in the three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its report, which included 94 Calls to Action, there has been little action on developing a national strategy or plan.

In Call to Action #34, the commission called on federal, provincial, and territorial governments “to undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” including increasing resources for FASD diagnosis, bringing in exemptions from mandatory minimum sentences for offenders with FASD and providing parole resources so people with FASD can live in the community.

Call to Action #33 also called on governments to “recognize as a high priority the need to address and prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.”

“Very little is actually being done to address the issues and we are quite disappointed,” said Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator of Canada.

Within Correctional Service Canada, which deals with federal inmates, only seven specialized assessments for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder were funded across the country in 2016.

When it comes to provinces and territories, each has a different approach, but most do not do FASD screening upon entry and do not keep statistics.

Even outside of the criminal justice system, funding is extremely limited.

In May 2017, then-federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott, now the Minister of Indigenous Services, announced $3.6 million in federal funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada for five projects “aimed at preventing and screening for alcohol use in pregnancy.” It was also dedicated to better identify “individual and population groups most in need of support.”

But the funding was not new at the time. It was the same $3,650,206 earmarked in 2016 to fund certain projects over a period of five years.

Nor is it an increase in funding. It is actually a decrease compared to the previous federal government.

From 2008 to 2014 — also over a five year period — the Public Health Agency of Canada spent a total of $12.45 million on the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Initiative.

For the families and communities dealing with FASD, the results of inaction are severe. Every time a loved one with FASD intersects with the criminal justice system, research shows they will likely be failed by it.

In prison, people with FASD are more likely to be involved in institutional incidents, are more likely to get charges while behind bars, typically spend more time of their sentence incarcerated and are less likely to complete programs, Zinger said.

“The correctional outcome is actually quite poor,” he added.

Invisible disability

In a Winnipeg provincial courtroom last August, defence lawyer Wendy Martin White told a judge that while everyone knew her client, a young Indigenous man sitting in a chair staring at his red running shoes, had FASD — his mother even confirmed she was drinking while pregnant — he had not been formally diagnosed.

Even without the diagnosis “what we think of normally for rehabilitation has to be thought of differently for someone like [my client],” she said.

Martin White’s client rocked back and forth in a chair placed between lawyers and in front of the provincial court judge. When asked if he had anything to say, he slowly responded “I don’t know what to say.”

“I just focused on listening. I never thought about what to say.”

Up to 60 per cent of Martin White’s clients are either confirmed to have, or are suspected of having, FASD, she said in an interview with CBC News. It means that a lot of her time is spent navigating the challenges that brings.


She talks about a client with FASD who was charged with a serious offence. He was from northern Manitoba but was being held at a remand centre just outside of Winnipeg. Martin White had been sending him materials to review before his trial and she was told he seemed to understand what was going on.

Finally Martin White was able to go and review the materials with her client and quickly realized that something was wrong.

“Not only could he not read or write, he was legally blind,” she said.

People with FASD will agree with things even if they don’t understand them, Martin White said. Often that means they can plead guilty without understanding the charges or implications.

She said it’s an invisible disability that affect their every interaction with the justice system — from encounters with police to plea deals to probation — but the system still doesn’t understand what it is, how it affects offenders and what can be done to reduce recidivism or divert people from the courts altogether.

“Are they manageable in the community? If they had the right supports would this have happened? Can we get them on the right system of support so that they are better at reintegrating into the community?” Martin White said.

“Is that not better for them than being in custody, where nine times out of 10 they are going to end up in segregation and their suicide rate goes up or other things go up because they just can’t handle that kind of environment well.”

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