One less shot, please: Heavy liquor intake linked to pancreatic cancer

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Aristotle’s famous philosophy of always seeking moderation seems to ring true in a new study linking heavy alcohol intake and pancreatic cancer. Published in the March 14 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study analyzed data from the prospective, long-term Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) of U.S. adults aged 30 and older. Among the one million participants, 6,847 died from pancreatic cancer between 1982 and 2006. According to the data, men who had three or more drinks per day experienced an increased risk of death from pancreatic cancer while for women, the risk was elevated after four or more drinks per day. Compared with non-drinkers, consuming three or more drinks of liquor per day was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer death in the total study population.

ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan worries that these findings may “confuse people because we tell them moderate drinking may prolong life (for instance, by protecting against coronary heart disease). When we say moderate drinking, we’re talking about two drinks a day, but according to this study, an extra drink might increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. There seems to be an overlap between alcohol’s ability to enhance longevity and increase one’s cancer risk.”

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross noted, “These data are more applicable to those who chronically imbibe more than three or four drinks per day, as most of the risk appears to be weighted toward heavier consumption.” He was also surprised that this was the first study showing that heavy alcohol intake increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. “I thought this was well-known,” he says. “Certainly people with chronic alcoholism have an increased risk of pancreatic disease, normally in the forms of acute and chronic pancreatitis. Three to four drinks a day is not all that uncommon, so if these data are correct, this new cancer risk is a warning sign. We already know that heavy drinking can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.”