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Brainstorm Health: Alcohol Cancer Link, GSK Research Chief, Obamacare Election Night

One of the world's oldest vices comes with a health risk. Dan Kitwood Getty Images

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

Numerous studies have suggested a link between alcohol consumption and certain kinds of cancers. Now, one of the nation’s largest and most prominent associations of cancer doctors says that moderate—and even light—drinking can increase your cancer risk.

“Alcohol use—whether light, moderate, or heavy—is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers, including those of the breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck,” said the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in a statement Wednesday. Breast and colon cancers are among the biggest cancer-related killers in the country, claiming nearly 95,000 American lives each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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The ASCO report goes on to pinpoint just how many of these fatal cancers are linked to drinking alcohol. And for many, it may be a surprising number—5-6% of new cancers and cancer deaths around the world are directly caused by alcohol consumption of any volume, according to the evidence gathered by ASCO.

“People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes. However, the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established and gives the medical community guidance on how to help their patients reduce their risk of cancer,” said ASCO President Dr. Bruce Johnson in a statement. Dr. Noelle K. LoConte of the University of Wisconsin added that “even moderate alcohol use can cause cancer.”

One of the biggest problems with the findings is the reality that most people just don’t see drinking as a cancer or major health risk factor unless it’s truly out of control. To reverse the trend, ASCO suggests a number of measures to fight cancer deaths from alcohol, including by limiting sales through increased taxes and incorporating alcohol control strategies into cancer patients’ care plans.

Read on for the day’s news.

DIGITAL HEALTH

10,000 Fitbits to be used in ambitious government health data program. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a major public health research and data collection project called “All of Us.” The effort aims to collect long-term, or so-called “longitudinal data,” about one million Americans’ biometrics and health conditions with the goal of fueling thousands of studies (and new insights) about how different diseases affect different people. That’s quite a challenge—and the NIH is enlisting Fitbit to participate in it. 10,000 of the company’s health tracking wearable devices will be used by All of Us participants. (The Verge)

INDICATIONS

Glaxo adds Roche, Calico vet to lead R&D. New GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley is continuing her transformation of the firm’s senior leadership. The latest move? Hiring Hal Barron, who previously worked at European pharma giant Roche before taking a gig at Google parent Alphabet’s age-related disease firm Calico, to be GSK’s next R&D chief. Walmsely has said she intends to keep a focus on growing the company’s experimental drug pipeline while also expanding its already formidable footprint in the consumer health business. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Is mental illness to blame for mass shootings? The most recent American gun violence tragedy, which left dozens dead at a Texas church, was perpetrated by a person who reportedly once escaped from a mental health facility. But do the numbers really bear out the claim that America’s sky-high number of gun deaths can be blamed on those with mental conditions? It’s an extremely questionable proposition, according to research compiled in a 2015 evaluation of the existing research. (Fortune)

Obamacare wins in Tuesday elections. Maine voters overwhelmingly passed a popular referendum to expand Medicaid under Obamacare on Tuesday night, setting up a battle with the state’s combative governor (and diehard Obamacare/Medicaid expansion opponent) Paul LePage. Maine is now the first state to vote to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative; LePage has given early signs that he won’t make its enactment easy. (Fortune)

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Produced by Sy Mukherjee @the_sy_guy sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
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