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Key reaction to the new alcohol guidelines that warn of cancer risk

Professor Jane Dacre, RCP president, said:

The RCP welcomes the new alcohol guidelines from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers, particularly its focus on having alcohol-free days during the week and spreading weekly alcohol consumption across several days. This will help avoid the risks of binge drinking and prevent drinking every day becoming a habit.  We as a nation need to move to a healthier approach to alcohol to reduce risks to health and life, and also reduce the massive burden on the NHS as a result of alcohol consumption.

Professor Alan Cameron, Vice President of Clinical Quality for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reiterates that women should be well informed about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Consistent with our advice, abstinence from alcohol is the safest option, in particular for women trying to conceive or during the first three months of pregnancy.

There is no proven safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink during pregnancy. We know that heavy drinking can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and has also been linked with an increased risk of miscarriage. Although the available evidence on low-level drinking has not yet been found to be harmful to women or their babies after 12 weeks of pregnancy, we cannot rule out the risks altogether.

It is our responsibility as healthcare professionals to be open and honest with women, explaining both the potential risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and the limitations of the science, and supporting them in coming to a decision for themselves. We all deal with uncertainty in our lives on a daily basis; pregnant women are no less capable of doing so.

Prof Derek Bell, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

The evidence is clear that excessive consumption of alcohol can cause serious health problems and this has wide-ranging implications for individuals, their families and communities, and the health and social services. Together, reducing alcohol consumption, spreading consumption over several days, and having alcohol-free days will help ensure a safer approach to alcohol and reduce the risk of developing serious illnesses.

We also welcome the adoption by the other UK CMOs of the advice that it is safest not to drink at all during pregnancy. This presents a clear and consistent message that there is no safe level of alcohol to drink while pregnant.

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