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The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently released an official statement about alcohol and cancer, but the information isn't as extreme as some headlines would imply. Also, scientists at Duke University have found evidence that head and face pain actually does hurt more than other types of injuries.

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Cancer Risk:

Head Pain:
If you’ve been paying attention to any health news lately, you might’ve heard that The American Society of Clinical Oncology released an official statement about alcohol and cancer.

Some headlines make it sound like everyone should just quit drinking now if they care about their health. But it’s not that extreme, and it’s not really new information.

Basically, this statement is saying that there’s growing evidence that too much alcohol can be really bad for you in the long term. Sounds pretty reasonable. And, to be super clear, you shouldn’t panic if you crack open a cold one with the boys every once in a while.

Scientists have been looking at risk factors involved in cancer for years and years. And a scientific statement just means that a group of experts gathered up a bunch of research and published an overview of it, while pointing out questions that could use a deeper look. The ASCO used decades of cancer research data to make their recommendations, including a bunch of meta-analysis or pooled analysis studies.

These are where researchers take results from other papers, like case studies or lab research, and plug the data into statistical models to look for trends. Like in 2007, researchers found that alcohol consumption was a significant factor in cancers of areas like your mouth or esophagus. Those findings were backed up by a branch of the World Health Organization in 2009.

Liver cancer and drinking a heavy amount of alcohol were strongly linked in a 2014 report backed by the World Cancer Research Fund International. And in a 2017 review, breast cancer risk before menopause was found to increase by around 5% if you have one drink a day. Just to name a few.

The problem is what your body does with the alcohol once you drink it. Ethanol gets processed into a molecule called acetaldehyde, and that’s the stuff that can mess with your DNA, make your cells mutate, and cause cancer. Research on animals like rats and mice has backed up this hypothesis, too.

They were much more likely to develop tumors if they drank water with ethanol or acetaldehyde. Now, a lot of these reviews provide evidence against excessive drinking and binge drinking, which is defined as consuming more than four or five drinks in a single night out. No matter what type of alcohol, you’re increasing your risk.

But even though the statement seems pretty clear, the big picture is complicated. We’re still not sure how much alcohol consumption alone affects cancer risk. These statistics could be influenced by things like smoking, or even sociological factors that affect how much people drink.

So the statement also points out that there are lots of gaps in our knowledge that only more research can fill. But for now, you know the drill. Like bacon or any of the other foods that have been linked to cancer, after understanding the risks, you can just… make sensible choices and live your life.

Now, besides all this talk about cancer, I think we can all agree that drinking too much can leave you with one heck of a headache the next morning. And headaches just suck. Some of them are mild, caused by not enough sleep or staring at a screen for too long.

But others can be aggressively terrible, like migraines. And with any sort of head or face injury, you might just feel like that’s worse than other kinds of pain. And this week, Duke University scientists found some evidence that any extra distress isn’t all in your head.

Well, I mean, it is. It is literally in your head because pain is signaling from your brain. The point is: there could be a real difference in how we perceive different kinds of pain.

Pain is produced by the brain in response to nerves that signal danger. Like, if you place your hand on something hot, nerves in your hand tell your brain “yeah, there’s a—there’s a /lot/ of thermal energy here… I don’t think this is good.” Your brain then translates that into a feeling that might change your behavior, like pulling your hand away really fast. The thing is, there are two main pathways for these danger signals to get to your brain: one set of nerves come from your face region, and the other set comes from everywhere else.

In this study, the group injected some not-so-pleasant chemicals into the face and paws of mice to test how they were experiencing pain in both cases. And they found that messing with the faces of mice led to more signaling in a cluster called the parabrachial nucleus. That’s a hub of nerves that leads to regions like the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and instincts.

Eventually, it seems like all danger signals get processed by the parabrachial nucleus. But what stands out here is that the researchers found evidence that some of the nerves from the mouse faces went directly there. So the researchers think this could be why previous studies in humans have seen more amygdala activation or emotional distress with face pain than pain in other places.

Scientists and migraine-sufferers alike are hopeful that this discovery will help expand our idea of pain to include both sensory discomfort and emotional suck. And hopefully learning more about that will help with better treatments. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow News.

If you want to learn more about your brain, and have questions about everything from personality tests to how fMRIs work, we have a whole channel for you called SciShow Psych. It’s at It’s doing really well, people love it— including this person.