It’s not a secret, but it may as well be. Few Canadians know the truth, and few may want to hear it: alcohol, any amount of alcohol, can cause cancer. There is no safe amount, and the calls to inform Canadians are growing.
“Even drinking one drink a day increases your risk of some cancers — including, if you’re a woman, breast cancer — but also cancers of the digestive system, the mouth, stomach,” said Tim Stockwell, a senior scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
“The risk increases with every drink you take.”
Alcohol has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans) for decades by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It’s right up there with tobacco and asbestos. Alcohol is also a top cause of preventable cancer after smoking and obesity.
But the vast majority of Canadians have no idea of the risk.
Stockwell wants to change that, and he and other health experts are advocating for cancer warning labels on alcohol containers. People need to know, he says, that though there are other genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to developing cancer, every drink comes with a risk.
“The risk from alcohol, it’s a dose response. The bigger and more frequent the dose, the higher your risk.”
Kathy Andrews had no idea that the wine she enjoyed most nights before she got pregnant was dangerous. The Vancouver resident was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.
“Some of the risk factors for me were that I’d been through IVF with my child and then pregnancy, as well as a stressful lifestyle and drinking, not exercising enough. So all of those things, I think, played a role,” she said.
When Andrews did her own research after her diagnosis, she says she was shocked to discover that moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to an approximate 30 to 50 per cent increased risk of breast cancer.
WATCH | Cancer survivor Kathy Andrews on why she’s dismayed at the lack of public awareness of alcohol’s link to cancer:
Andrews is not alone.
According to the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, only about 25 per cent of Canadian drinkers know that alcohol can cause cancer.
In Canada, alcohol was linked to 7,000 new cancer cases in 2020 alone.
Soaring alcohol sales since the start of the pandemic have triggered concerns of an impending global increase in related cancer cases. Experts say the risk has always been there, but is easy to ignore because drinking is so normalized and so celebrated as a form of relaxation and reward.
“COVID will end, right, and cancer will continue, and there will be more cancer because people are drinking more,” said Dr. Fawaad Iqbal, a radiation oncologist at the Durham Regional Cancer Centre in Oshawa, Ont.
Iqbal says even among his cancer patients, the perception persists that consuming moderate amounts of alcohol has health benefits, particularly for cardiovascular health. Iqbal says studies suggesting health benefits have largely been debunked, yet they continue to circulate, adding to the general confusion and misunderstanding.
And he says that despite what those studies find, it doesn’t negate the fact alcohol can cause cancer and that people should be aware of that risk.
WATCH | Radiation oncologist Dr. Fawaad Iqbal on the links between alcohol and cancer:
“It’s shocking. In an information era, we have warning labels on everything I can think of. I bought my kids fishing rods this summer, and their fishing rods have warning labels that say this fishing rod can cause cancer. Whereas, you know, a level-one carcinogen that is everywhere has no particular warnings on it.”
Iqbal has drafted a proposal to the Canadian Medical Association asking it to advocate for explicit labelling of alcoholic beverages warning of the carcinogenic risk to the consumer. He’s also reached out to Ontario’s liquor board, provincial and federal health authorities, as well as to the prime minister.
“I don’t like when people are lied to, including myself. This toxin is there for everybody to consume and nobody’s warning you.”
As for why so many people are in the dark, Iqbal says he thinks that, “it boils down to money. Alcohol is a $1.5 trillion a year [global] industry. They’ll lose money, and money wins at the end of the day.”
Stockwell says the experience of the Yukon is proof of that.
In 2017, public health researchers and the Yukon government agreed to test cancer warning labels on all alcohol containers in the government-owned liquor store in Whitehorse. But less than a month after the cancer labels were put on, they were taken off under pressure from the alcohol industry.
Stockwell was one of the label study’s leaders. He says even though alcohol is a known carcinogen, industry representatives argued the cancer labels were alarmist and misleading. The territory, he says, couldn’t afford a potential costly legal battle, so the cancer warning labels were pulled while other labels, including information about standard drink size and low-risk drinking guidelines, remained.
“The industry’s claims of defamation were completely false, completely and utterly false,” Stockwell said. But, he added, “they serve the purpose of delaying, freezing things from happening, and in some ways, keeping that message out of the awareness.”
CBC’s The National reached out to Beer Canada, Spirits Canada and Wine Growers Canada asking whether they accept the link between alcohol and cancer, and whether they believe they have a responsibility to inform consumers of that risk. All three focused their answers on the need to drink responsibly and in moderation.
In a statement, Beer Canada said, “The decision whether to drink, and if so, how much, is a personal one. Responsible, moderate consumption can be part of a balanced lifestyle for most adults of legal drinking age.” It added that it is common knowledge that over-consumption comes with health risks and that, “For some people, even moderate consumption may be associated with health risks.”
Wine Growers Canada (WGC) said it is aware of the health risks that may be associated with alcohol consumption, and it recently launched the The Right Amount initiative, “to provide Canadians with information and tools to help make informed decisions on alcohol consumption.” It noted that the website includes responsible drinking guidelines, a standard drink calculator, and harm reduction recommendations for at-risk groups including pregnant women and youth.
It also added that, “the right amount of alcohol for some is none.”
As for Spirits Canada, it maintains there are health benefits to drinking. In a statement, it said, “moderate consumption of alcohol has long been recognized as contributing to a healthy lifestyle and research has consistently indicated beneficial effects for cardiovascular diseases, reducing the risk of stroke and some diseases associated with aging.”
Spirits Canada added there are several policies in place to ensure consumers are aware of the risks of misusing alcohol, including government-controlled liquor boards, legal drinking age requirements, as well as restrictions on where alcohol can be sold and the setting of minimum prices. “Against this comprehensive background of control and management of alcohol, warning labels have not been shown to be useful in altering consumer behaviour or reducing the amount people drink.”
However, evidence of the effectiveness of alcohol labels is growing, including the results of the Yukon labelling study. It continues to be cited by researchers and governments around the world because, despite the alcohol industry’s intervention, the study found information had an impact on people’s behaviour.
Stockwell says even though the cancer labels were only in place for four weeks during the study, people remembered them. Combined with the other labels that remained on alcohol containers for a total of four months, researchers found that by the end of the study alcohol sales dropped by about 7 per cent.
Another key finding, says Stockwell, is that the more people knew, the angrier they got.
WATCH | Tim Stockwell on alcohol ‘masquerading as something safe and glamourous’:
Dr. Erin Hobin co-led the study with Stockwell. A senior scientist at Public Health Ontario as well as a collaborating scientist with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, Hobin says the study’s labels were effective because they were well-designed. They were intentionally colourful and used a bold font, which helped make the message clear to consumers.
Hobin says the Yukon study also found that the more aware people were about the risks related with alcohol, the more likely they were to support increases in its price.
“Which generally is not a popular policy among the public or policy makers, but is a policy that is well-established for reducing alcohol harm,” Hobin said.
Hobin adds that Canada is a world leader in designing effective tobacco and cannabis warning labels. She says recent research indicates that labels that are well-designed, “can be an effective tool for supporting more informed and safer decisions related to alcohol, and may even start to shift consumers perceptions of alcohol from a relatively benign substance to a substance associated with serious health risks that should be considered when drinking alcohol.”
Several European countries are considering cancer warning labels on alcohol.
Asked by CBC’s, The National whether Health Canada plans to do the same, a department spokesperson says it continues to fund research into the best ways to inform Canadians of the various harms associated with alcohol use, and that updates to the current national low-risk drinking guidelines and standard drink information are coming. Those updates are expected at the end of this year.
In the meantime, awareness is spreading through graphic public health campaigns around the world, including in the U.S. and Australia. Just before the pandemic, British Columbia’s Fraser Health Authority also ran posters spelling out the cancer risks that come with drinking.
Health professionals are urging governments at every level to act now to warn Canadians about the cancer risk as well as other alcohol-related diseases.
“I think it’s tragic,” said Dr. Eric Yoshida, a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and chair of the Canadian Liver Foundation’s Medical Advisory Committee. “I think it’s actually horrible. I think it’s unacceptable. I think the conversation should have started years ago, decades ago.”
Yoshida is calling for product warning labels to raise awareness and deter alcohol misuse. He says he has seen a “tidal wave” of patients in need of a transplant since 2019, when patients in B.C could qualify for a liver transplant without needing to abstain from drinking for six months.
Many of his patients, Yoshida says, are young people in their 20s and 30s who had no idea their drinking could cause so much harm.
“They were shocked,”‘ he said, to realize, “that the alcohol could actually kill them.”
WATCH | Dr. Eric Yoshida on the devastating impact of alcohol and liver disease among young people:
Yoshida says warning labels must be part of a broader awareness effort.
“I think the government has to step up. I think leaving it to the education system, leaving it to the media, leaving it to people’s families, I think it probably isn’t good enough.”
Breast-cancer survivor Andrews agrees, adding that had she known of the cancer risks linked to drinking, she would have abstained or consumed a lot less. She’s grateful that she’s now recovering, but wants people to know more than she did.
“It can cut their lives short and take them away from the people that love them. People are putting really dangerous stuff in their bodies, and they don’t know. And it’s not worth it.”
Watch full episodes of The National on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.
Omicron-specific vaccine likely to come too late to help in this wave: Sharma – Victoria News
Health Canada’s chief medical adviser says variant-specific vaccines can be approved faster than the general ones first issued to combat COVID-19, but one targeting the Omicron strain still likely won’t be ready in time to help with the latest wave.
Dr. Supriya Sharma said what is really needed are vaccines that can possibly stop more than one variant at a time, including those yet to come.
Omicron became the dominant variant in Canada in just over two weeks, and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday it’s now believed to be responsible for more than 90 per cent of all COVID-19 cases.
Studies suggest two doses of the existing mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are not good at preventing infection from Omicron.
Multiple studies, however, suggest the vaccines are excellent at keeping symptoms mild, preventing hospitalizations, and shortening the stay and lowering the level of care for those who do get admitted to hospital. Fewer vaccinated Omicron patients, for example, need mechanical ventilation.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on new versions of their vaccines that specifically target the Omicron variant.
Moderna is hoping to get its product into trials early this year. Pfizer said it could have 100 million doses of theirs ready as early as March, and Canada has contracts for boosters from both companies that would include vaccines for variants too.
But Sharma said even with the expedited review process for vaccine variants, that’s “probably not” fast enough.
“By that time, based on what we’ve known about the Omicron wave, it might well and truly be through,” she said. “And then the question is always, ‘is there another variant that’s coming up?’”
The solution, she said, likely lies with vaccines that can target more than one variant at a time.
The COVID-19 vaccine technical committee of the World Health Organization said the same thing on Jan. 11, noting Omicron is the fifth variant of concern in two years and “is unlikely to be the last.”
Booster shots that heighten antibody development became the immediate response to Omicron for many governments, including Canada.
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a British Columbia pediatrician and co-chair of the WHO’s clinical research committee on COVID-19, told The Canadian Press that boosters aren’t a long-term viable option.
“Boosting your way out of a pandemic is going to inevitably shoot you in the foot in the sense that you’re going to have a future variant that’s going to emerge that’s going to cause problems,” he said. “It’s going to evade your vaccines, and then you’re going to have to scramble.”
Omicron doesn’t evade the existing vaccines entirely but a future variant could, he said. The issue largely stems from the fact that the original vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize what is called the spike protein found on the surface of a virus, and that spike protein is mutating significantly.
Think of the mutated spike protein as a bit of a disguise that makes it harder for the immune system to recognize the virus and mount a defence to kill it off.
Omicron has more than 50 mutations, and at least 36 are on the spike protein.
Multivalent vaccines that use the spike protein from more than one variant, or that target the genetic components of a virus rather than the spike protein, are possibly the ones that could offer protection for both this pandemic and the next novel coronavirus that emerges.
“It’s pan-coronavirus, where it’s looking at big broad neutralizing responses and you don’t have to update it every season and so on,” said Murthy. “That’s been the Holy Grail of flu vaccinology for the past number of decades. We haven’t achieved that yet, because flu is a bit tricky, but we think that it’s achievable for coronavirus, specifically.”
The United States Army has a version heading into Phase 2 trials that can attach multiple spike proteins. A vaccine with the specific spike proteins from all five COVID-19 variants of concern would likely be more successful, even against future variants, because they all share some of the same mutations and what one might miss another may catch.
Moderna is working on trials for multivalent vaccines using combinations of the spike proteins from the original virus and one of the variants, or two of the variants together. It’s not clear when they would be ready for use.
Sharma said even if the vaccines aren’t working as well against variants as they were against the original virus, to her “they’re still miraculous.”
“To have a vaccine that was developed that quickly, that still has, through multiple variants … with boosters, up to 70, 80 per cent effectiveness against serious disease, ailments, hospitalization and death,” she said. “That is miraculous for a new vaccine for a new virus.”
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Canada approves Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, seeks supplies
Canada on Monday approved Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in people aged 18 and older but said supply shortages would keep doses from being made available immediately.
Infections and hospitalizations due the Omicron variant have been rising in Canada, forcing provinces to put in restrictions and the federal government to support impacted businesses.
“(This) is particularly important, as access to easy to use treatments could help to reduce the severity of COVID-19 in adults who become newly infected at high risk of progressing to serious illness,” said chief public health officer Theresa Tam.
Pfizer’s two-drug antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company’s clinical trial.
It is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms.
Ottawa said last month it had signed a deal with Pfizer for a million treatment courses, pending approval. But getting those supplies could face hurdles.
“While there is currently limited global supply of Paxlovid, we are working to firm up a delivery schedule with the intent of bringing treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” Tam told a briefing.
Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, is seeing signs that Omicron cases may have peaked, said chief medical officer Kieran Moore.
“I’m starting to have much more hope … the number of cases is decelerating instead of accelerating in terms of hospitalizations and (people admitted to) intensive care units,” he told an Ottawa radio station.
Official data show that as of Jan 8, 87.8% of Canadians aged 12 and above had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The U.S. authorized the Pfizer treatment for people ages 12 and older last month.
Canada is still looking at whether to approve Merck & Co’s oral antiviral pill, molnupiravir, which had less impressive results than Paxlovid in its pivotal clinical trial.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)
January 16, 2022 coronavirus update for Oakville – Oakville News
This is Oakville’s coronavirus update for Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. As children head back to school tomorrow, the main takeaway from today’s COVID-19 update is the increase in the number of outbreaks in long-term care, retirement, and hospital facilities. OTMH is now dealing with two outbreaks as a new one was declared at 5 South, and the province has 231 hospitals recording ongoing outbreaks, an increase nice.
A new outbreak at OTMH was declared but not shown on the region’s update of Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Halton does not provide new information on weekends or holidays.
- Oakville – 70 patients – plus 6
- Halton – 126 patients – plus 10
- Ontario – 3,595 patients – minus 362 (ICU 563 plus 19, Ventilators 327 plus 19)
There are currently nine active outbreaks with 58 cases (LTC-41, retirement homes-13, hospitals-2) in Oakville.
Long-term care facilities status
- 424 ongoing outbreaks -plus 9
- 27,391 cases – plus 320
- 39,06 resident deaths – plus 9
- 319 ongoing outbreaks – plus 16
- 231 ongoing outbreaks – plus 16
- 1st Dose (5+) – 90%
- 2nd Dose (5+) – 83%
- Boosters (18+) – 48%
Ontario administered 117,300 vaccinations
- 1st Dose (5+) – 82%
- 2nd Dose (5+) – 3%
The number of confirmed new cases in Oakville, Halton and Ontario is under-reported since the province restricted access to testing, limiting it to high-risk individuals, healthcare providers, and patients.
- 36,184 cases – plus 552 or 5,962.2 cases per million
- 634.6 new weekly cases per 100,000, down 15.9 per cent from 2 weeks ago
- 948,086 total cases – plus 10,450 or 6,434.7 cases per million
- 503.1 new weekly cases per 100,000, down 22.4 per cent from 2 weeks ago
- 843,073 recoveries – plus 15,317
- 10,605 deaths – plus 40
- 94,408 active cases – minus 4,907
**Vaccine booking: Halton continues to book first and second-dose vaccinations for all residents age five and older, plus third-dose boosters for all adults age 18 and up.
Parents must make booster doses and appointments for children in advance, but first and second doses for those 12 and up are available on a walk-in basis.
All vaccines approved for use in Canada effectively protect you against COVID-19 and all known variants of concern.
The evidence is clear: vaccination is the best way to be protected. Local, provincial, national and international health units all affirm the same data that Canada’s approved vaccines effectively protect you from COVID-19 and significantly reduce your risks of getting sick, going to the hospital, and dying from the disease.
Pictured right is a graph from the Halton region showing how dramatically your risk of getting sick or being admitted to hospital is when vaccinated.
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