Heavy Drinking Linked to Pancreatic Cancer
Article date: March 14, 2011
By Eleni Berger
Drinking 3 or more drinks per day may raise your risk of dying from pancreatic cancer, new research by the American Cancer Society shows.
The findings are based on an analysis of the Cancer Prevention Study II, a decades-long study of more than 1 million US adults who reported on various lifestyle factors like drinking, smoking, diet and exercise.
Because the study was so large, researchers were able to tease out the relationship of alcohol to pancreatic cancer more clearly than previous studies could, says lead researcher Susan Gapstur, Ph.D., M.P.H, vice president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.
In particular, they were able to assess whether alcohol is associated with pancreatic cancer independent of smoking. Smoking is a well-known risk factor for pancreatic cancer, but because many drinkers also smoke, it has been hard to separate the effects of each factor in smaller studies, Gapstur says.
Risk seen with hard liquor
Among people who never smoked, those who drank 3 or more drinks of hard liquor daily had a 36% higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer than nondrinkers. Those who drank only beer or wine did not have a higher risk. The researchers did not asses the risk in people who drank more than one kind of alcohol.
Heavy drinking was associated with an increased risk for smokers, too, though the effect was smaller because smokers already have a higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer.
The study appears in Monday’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Limit how much you drink
It’s not clear why only hard liquor was associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer death. Gapstur and her colleagues say that the amount of alcohol in a typical single serving of hard liquor might be higher than in a single beer or wine serving.
The key message, Gapstur says, is to limit your alcohol intake if you drink.
"Overall, these findings add to the evidence that heavy alcohol intake is an independent risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, they underscore the importance of the American Cancer Society guideline for cancer prevention recommending that if you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption to no more than one drink per day if you are a woman or two drinks per day if you are a man."
Read the rest of the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for diet and physical activity and learn more about alcohol and cancer risk. If you need help quitting smoking, see our Guide to Quitting Smoking or call us at 1-800-227-2345.
Reviewed by members of the ACS Medical Content and News Staff
Citation: Association of Alcohol Intake with Pancreatic Caner Mortality in Never Smokers. Published in the March 14, 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine (Vol. 171, No. 5). First author: Susan M. Gapstur, PhD, MHP, American Cancer Society.
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