— by Jeff Jurmain, MA
A new study has found that heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer in men, while those who drank little or no alcohol had no changed risk.
Heavy alcohol use is unhealthy and dangerous for a variety of reasons, and this new link is another big issue. Drinking too much won’t only deteriorate the liver and promote obesity, but it can raise the specter of cancer.
Here is what they found: men who consumed alcohol increased their risk of pancreatic cancer up to six times compared with those who didn’t consume alcohol or who had less than one drink per month. This heightened risk depended on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption. They also found that men who engaged in binge drinking had a 3.5 times greater likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer.
Definition of a drink in this case: one can or bottle or 12 ounces of beer; a four-ounce glass of wine; or one shot of liquor. Each of these servings contains about 14 grams of alcohol. The heaviest drinkers consumed 21 to 35 drinks per week. While it might not seem like binge drinking to many people — consuming five or more drinks during in a night is considered a binge.
Researchers did not find this link held up among women, possibly due to the lower proportion of women who reported heavy or binge drinking.
Pancreatic cancer is among the most fatal of all cancers. The pancreas is critical for digestion and production of hormones and, when it is stricken with cancer, patients have the lowest overall five-year survival rate of all specific cancers. That’s why uncovering as many risk factors as possible can potentially save lives. In this case, large and frequent levels of alcohol are indeed a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In the past, there have been inconsistent results, more or less caused by faulty studies.
In the new one, researchers used structured questionnaires to interview pancreatic cancer patients in the San Francisco area diagnosed between 1995 and 1999. They then compared those results with those of control participants matched by sex, age and county of residence. The 532 cancer patients ranged in age from 21 to 85, the majority being between 60 and 80, and 55% were men.
More research is needed to understand the differences in pancreatic cancer risk between men and women and to see why alcohol use and binge drinking can help trigger tumors in the pancreas.