Tests Detect Pancreatic Cancer Earlier
Studies Show New Screening Techniques Could Improve Survival Rates
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Heavy Drinking, Smoking Raises Pancreatic Cancer Risk
Also at the meeting, researchers reported that heavy smokers and drinkers
are at risk of developing the cancer much earlier than is typical.
The more tobacco and alcohol one consumes, the younger the age at which the
disease tends to strike, and beer drinkers may be at particularly high risk,
While previous studies have shown that smoking tobacco and drinking
alcohol are risk factors for pancreatic cancer, "we didn't know if risk
increased with dose," says Michelle A. Anderson, MD, assistant professor of
medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
To find out, she and colleagues studied data on about 450 pancreatic cancer
patients enrolled in an international patient registry.
The study showed that "the more a person smoked or drank, the younger the
onset of the cancer, and that of the two, drinking has a worse effect,"
Among the findings:
- People who drank more than three drinks a day were diagnosed with
pancreatic cancer at an average age of 60 vs. 67.3 for teetotalers.
- Heavy smokers developed the cancer about two years earlier than people who
didn't smoke or drink: 64.9 years old vs. 66.7 years old. Heavy smokers were
defined as people who smoked 21 or more pack-years in a lifetime, or the
equivalent of at least one pack a day for 21 years.
- Beer drinkers tended to develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than
those who preferred wine or hard liquor. While the finding could have been due
to chance, Anderson tells WebMD that she believes that the link will hold up
when larger numbers of people are studied.
- The median age of onset for patients who drank only beer was 62.2 compared
with 68.2 for those drinking other types of alcohol.
Anderson says that regardless of their choice of beverage, heavy drinkers
and smokers may want to talk to their doctors about pancreatic cancer
"Normally you wouldn't think about screening a 55-year-old with no family
history. But if they're a heavy drinker or smoker, you may want to do it
earlier," she says.