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Two or More Drinks a Day May Increase Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Posted in Alcoholism

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most fatal cancers; fewer than 5 percent of those diagnoses are still alive five years after the diagnosis. Even more disturbing is that pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a “silent killer” because it often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages, and the later symptoms are usually varied and non-specific. Smoking, obesity, and diets that are high in red meat are major risk factors for pancreatic cancer, and alcohol consumption was recently added to the list.

Alcohol has been shown to cause chronic pancreatitis, which can lead to pancreatic cancer, but previous studies had been unable to confirm the association between drinking and pancreatic cancer. However, a recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention suggests that men and women who consume more than two alcoholic beverages a day could increase their risk of developing the cancer.

Unlike previous studies, the current research pools data collected from 14 research studies, which included 862,664 people. The data was collected prospectively, which means that information about dietary and environmental exposures was collected prior to the pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Of the 862,664, 2,187 were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during the study.

If an individual consumed approximately two drinks per day (compared with no alcohol per day), their risk of pancreatic cancer was slightly increased. Researchers defined one drink as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor.

Although there was no significant difference between men and women when comparing alcohol intake with the risk of cancer, the association was seen in women at two or more drinks per day. The researchers also observed a higher risk among men who consumed three or more drinks a day.

In addition to chronic pancreatitis and diabetes, smoking is still considered the strongest risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In 2008, there were about 18,910 new cases of pancreatic cancer reported and 34,290 deaths from pancreatic cancer.

"Despite being a deadly disease, there are few known risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer," explains lead author Jeanine M. Genkinger, PhD, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. She continues, "At this point, it’s important to understand any protective or risk factors for this dangerous disease even if the risks are weak or modest."

 Source: Science Daily, June 2009