Pancreatic Cancer Risk and Drinking Alcohol

Is pancreatic cancer risk increased by drinking alcohol? That question was investigated in a large meta-analysis.

The research used data from 19 prospective studies. They included over 4,000,000 subjects. The referent group consisted of non-drinkers or occasional drinkers. Light drinkers were those who had up to 12 grams (about one drink) per day. Moderate drinkers had 12 to 24 grams (up to about two drinks) per day. Heavy drinkers had more per day.

Neither light nor moderate drinking increased pancreatic cancer risk. Nor did heavy beer or wine drinking. Heavy spirits drinking increased the risk slightly.

Pancreatic Cancer

Possible symptoms tend not to occur early. They may include these.

  • pancreatic cancer riskDark urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
  • Itchy skin
  • Pale, gray, or greasy stools.
  • Unintended weight loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Enlarged gallbladder or liver.

Remember that having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that you have the disease. They can be caused by other problems. But it would be wise to see a doctor, just in case.

Over 53,070 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. About 42,000 die of the disease annually. It’s the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the country. World-wide, it’s ┬áthe twelfth most common cancer, tied with kidney cancer.

Because the disease is usually detected late in its development, the survival rate is usually low. It’s measured in months. However, the survival rate of a rare form of the disease is measured in years.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk.

Some things that increase risk of the disease can be changed.

  • Smoking tobacco doubles the risk.
  • Being overweight can increase the risk by about 1/5.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals used in dry cleaning and metal working increases risk.

Other things, such as age, gender, race, and family medical history cannot be changed to reduce pancreatic cancer risk. So it’s especially important to avoid smoking and obesity.

Resources on Pancreatic Cancer.

Engber, D. Is the cure for cancer inside you? New York Times Magazine, Dec 21, 2012.

Neoptolemos, J., et al. (Eds) Pancreatic Cancer. NY: Springer, 2010.

Wolpin, B. Pancreatic Cancer. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2015.