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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

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Heavy Drinking Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

Study Shows Association Between 3 or More Drinks a Day and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Alcohol and Pancreatic Cancer continued...

“For any given liquor beverage the average amount of alcohol consumed is probably, on average, higher than an average drink of wine or beer,” Gapstur says.

But other experts think the lack of an association between pancreatic cancer and beer or wine may be a statistical blip. They caution people not to assume those drinks are safer than liquor.

“The person who is drinking 10 beers a day shouldn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’” says Kooby. “The message of this study is moderation, not that too much beer or wine is OK.”

The pancreatic cancer-alcohol associations remained after researchers tried to adjust the numbers for the effects of other things known to influence cancer risk, like obesity, age, and a history of smoking, or diabetes.

How Alcohol May Harm the Pancreas

The pancreas is gland that sits behind the stomach. It’s responsible for producing the hormones insulin and glucagon as well as enzymes that help to digest food.

Alcohol is partially metabolized in the pancreas, Gapstur says, “and some of the early metabolites of alcohol can be toxic to the cells. They can lead to changes in pathways that are important to cancer like inflammation.”

It’s long been known that heavy drinking can damages the pancreas and that excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas characterized by severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Chronic pancreatitis, in turn, has been linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

What’s been harder for scientists to prove, however, was that alcohol increased the risk of pancreatic cancer, Gapstur says, largely because most studies have been too small to detect an association.

“People who drink are also more likely to smoke cigarettes, and smoking is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer,” Gapstur explains.

Safe Drinking Limits

Complicating the picture on alcohol and health is that excess consumption has been linked to a host of cancers including breast, colon, liver, and cancers of the mouth, throat, or larynx.

Moderate drinking, at least in middle-aged adults, has been tied to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

So where is it safe to draw the line?

According to Gapstur, the best rule of thumb is to follow the recommendations of the American Cancer Society to “limit consumption to no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man.”

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