Health: A Question of Health

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I think I am developing an alcohol problem. How can I know if I am drinking too much?

If you are a man and you are regularly drinking more than 21-28 units of alcohol a week, you are at risk of alcohol-related health problems. For women the figure is 14-21 units a week. A unit of alcohol is a half- pint of beer, a single measure of spirits, or a glass of wine. Many doctors use the CAGE questionnaire to help diagnose alcohol problems. It is a set of four simple questions that you can ask yourself.

C - Have you felt the need to Cut down on your drinking?

A - Do you feel Annoyed by people complaining about your drinking?

G - Do you ever feel Guilty about your drinking?

E - Do you ever drink an eye-opener in the morning to relieve the shakes? If you answer yes to more than one, it is likely that you do have an alcohol problem.

I have developed a "mild" form of skin cancer on my forehead, which the doctor calls a rodent ulcer. It is going to be treated with radiotherapy. How can skin cancer be described as "mild"?

A rodent ulcer is another name for a basal cell carcinoma or BCC. It is the commonest form of skin cancer - many thousands of people are affected by it every year. Rodent ulcers usually start off as a small red mark on the face, nose or forehead, although they can affect any part of the body. Eventually they develop into a raised circle of skin, with an ulcer in the middle that refuses to heal. Rodent ulcers are "mild" only in the sense that, unlike most cancers, they never spread throughout the body. But they can cause a good deal of destruction to the area where they occur. They do not need to be treated as an emergency, but they do need to be treated. Normally they can be completely cured, leaving only a small scar.

I have a severe phobia of needles which has prevented me from ever having a blood test. I am now developing arthritis and I need to have a blood test before I can start treatment. Is there any cure for needle phobia?

Phobias of all kinds - to needles, spiders, snakes or even dentists - can be effectively treated by psychologists who specialise in behaviour therapy. A surprising large number of people have phobias - about 10 per cent of the population. Severe phobias can rule your life and prevent you from doing what you want to do.Psychological treatment, which often involves a step-by-step exposure to the frightening object, allows people with phobias to overcome their fears. Your GP might be able to refer you to a psychologist for behaviour therapy. The British Psychological Society maintains a list of qualified psychologists who are available for consultation. You can find the list on their web site ( or in reference libraries.

Please send your questions to Question of Health, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; or e- mail them to Dr Kavalier regrets he is unable to respond personally