Alcohol & Cancer/ Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Alcohol plays a role in many cancers, importantly for women it can cause FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). This is not reversible, the Chief Medical Officers in the UK all agree that the safest thing to do to prevent this, is not to consume alcohol. We know that for some people that this can be difficult, there is support available to you and should be explained to you by the Health Visitor, GP or other relevant medical professional. The final choice on what to do will lie with you, it is your body, and you have the right to make the decisions, but it is worth reading up about this.
Many alcohol services, both voluntary and statutory will provide the best up-to-date information available to you to support your choice, please make use of any this support if you feel you need it.

This page will contain information about two areas of alcohol issues;

1) Alcohol related Cancers                                                 2) Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Both ‘ethanol’, the alcohol we drink and acetaldhyde, the chemical broken down when alcohol enters your body both create damage to your organs and are a cause of various cancers.

Alcohol has a direct link with at least seven types of cancer;

a) Mouth Cancer

b) Gullet Cancer (oesophagus)

c) Throat (Pharynx and Larynx)

d) Liver.

e) The large Bowel (Colon and Rectum

f) Breast.

Liver cancer is the best known, it is when the liver, the bodies factory starts having issues with breaking down the alcohol due to cell damage which alcohol causes. This is linked both to obesity and alcohol consumption. Any cancer is bad, but we can use certain protective factors and one main one is to look at the amounts of alcohol we consume.

Alcohol has more severe effects on females and at an earlier stage in life than males, basically women get affected by alcohol quicker than men, due basically to biological differences. Women who drink tend to get Cirrhosis at an earlier stage, in fact in Scotland women’s rates are at a higher level than males in England, this shows the extent of our drinking problems. But one of the main issues we worry about in females is FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), is a group of conditions which occur in children who’s mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy, so importantly, it is preventable.

There are a whole range of problems, which the child has, which are life long, these vary from behaviour problems to abnormal appearances and issues of sight and hearing. It affects between 2-5% of people in the USA and Western Europe, as a ‘syndrome’ it is on a scale of effects. You can talk with your GP or Nurse if you are worried about this and there is advice on-line and our alcohol services are more than willing to provide information and support around this issue.

Alcohol crosses the blood brain barrier, this means it affects the fetus in various ways. For this reason the clear medical advice is to avoid alcohol when you are planning for a child, if you find out that you have a child, which you have not planned for, please think about stopping drinking, if you are pregnant.

Importantly there is advice and support around FASD in pregnancy, this is similar to smoking or the use of drugs and various other substances, seek advice about how to stop and read up about FASD and talk with a medical professional or your local alcohol project, Tayside Council on Alcohol and the NHS Tayside will provide information to support you. As noted, FASD is totally preventable, importantly we know more about this than we did in the past, but it is important to note that the best considered medical opinion is to stop using alcohol then we know it is preventable. Now if you have issues around alcohol use and would like to continue using alcohol, as mentioned, please seek medical advice and support.

We have included in this section a DVD of FAS which is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, this is the most server cases of the effect on the child and is usual more in mothers who have been heavy alcohol users throughout their pregnancy, this is rare, but it might be worth thinking about the effect at it’s greatest extremes! Not pleasant and totally preventable.