SOURCE Yahoo News
By Kerry Grens
The researchers focused on people who were non-smokers, and found that the risk of cancer death was 36 percent higher among those who drank liquor heavily.
Beer and wine were not linked to pancreatic cancer deaths.
Susan Gapstur, the vice president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, and the lead researcher on this study, said it’s unclear whether it’s the type of beverage that matters, or the amount of alcohol in the drink.
Gapstur and her colleagues used survey data from more than a million people, including more than 400,000 who had never smoked. The participants completed a questionnaire each year starting in 1982, as part of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II.
People in the study reported how many drinks they had each day, but not how much alcohol was in them.
Gapstur said previous research suggests that people tend to pour more hard liquor than what is considered the standard amount for one drink, a shot and a half.
“Those who drink hard liquor may be consuming more alcohol per drink” than those who drink beer or wine, Gapstur told Reuters Health.
Pancreatic cancer is rare: About 11 people out of every 100,000 are diagnosed with it each year.
Gapstur said that while it may be only the 10th most common cancer diagnosis, it’s the 4th most common cause of cancer death. Of the one million people included in the study (both smokers and non-smokers), nearly 7,000 died of pancreatic cancer by 2006.
Previous studies have shown that smoking and obesity are linked to pancreatic cancer, but researchers have disagreed about alcohol. The new study, while suggesting a link, does not prove that heavy drinking causes pancreatic cancer, or vice-versa.
Gapstur said the previous lack of clarity on the issue was due to the difficulty in separating heavy drinking from smoking in these kinds of studies, because the two often go hand-in-hand. Her study, which included thousands of non-smokers who drank heavily, was large enough to tease out the effect of alcohol alone.
“It’s an extremely well-designed study run by experts and a credit to the American Cancer Society,” Richard Stevens at the University of Oxford wrote in an email to Reuters Health.
“However, pancreatic cancer remains a rare disease, even in heavy drinkers, and people should consider the way that alcohol increases more common diseases such as heart disease,” Stevens, who was not involved in this study, wrote.
The report is published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, and was funded by the American Cancer Society.
It’s unclear how alcohol might be involved in pancreatic cancer. But Gapstur and her colleagues point out in the study that long-term drinking can cause inflammation of the pancreas, which in turn is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
“The major take-home message here is that these findings clearly further underscore the American Cancer Society’s guidelines, which recommend that, if you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption to one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.”