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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

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Drink Up, Boost Pancreatic Cancer Risk?

Two or More Alcoholic Drinks Daily May Raise Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Study Shows

Alcohol and Pancreatic Cancer: Study Details continued...

When men drank more than three, the risk rose to nearly 60% compared to nondrinkers, when looking at a specific kind of pancreatic cancer, an adenocarcinoma. That was a significant association. The majority of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas.

The effect was the same regardless of type of alcohol, she says. "It doesn't appear to be associated with a specific beverage; it is associated with total alcohol intake."

Why alcohol boosts risk isn't known, but one of several theories is that a by-product of alcohol metabolism acts as a co-carcinogen.

The researchers also found that the link between alcohol and pancreatic cancer was stronger for those of normal weight than for obese or overweight participants. "Obesity is thought to be strongly associated with pancreatic cancer," Genkinger says. So it could be that in the study, the strong obesity connection masked the connection with alcohol for the overweight participants, she says.

Smoking is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute and is published in the March issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Second Opinion

Peter Shields, MD, deputy director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer at Georgetown University but not a co-researcher of the study, reviewed the paper for WebMD and put the findings in perspective. Excess alcohol intake is already known to play a role in many cancers, he says, including esophageal, oral, liver, and breast cancers.

"Now there is some reasonable evidence it might also cause pancreatic cancer," Shields says.

"No single study is ever definitive," he adds. But, being an analysis of previously published studies, the new report, he says, is "better than a single study."

The Best Alcohol Advice?

The wisest course? Drinking one drink a day may be good for warding off heart disease, as several studies show, Shields says, "but there are other ways to prevent heart disease."

At the least, he says, people should be aware of the new findings.

Genkinger notes that based on their findings, the standing advice from the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association -- limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women -- makes sense.

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