Heavy drinking increases risk of pancreatic cancer but not always esophageal cancer

Consuming three or more glasses of liquor per day may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, but even heavier drinking (seven or more alcoholic beverages per day) has been exonerated as a factor in two forms of esophageal cancer.

A recent study focusing on pancreatic cancer (Arch Intern Med. 2011;171[5]:444-451), showed that consuming three or more drinks of liquor per day raises the risk of death from pancreatic cancer independent of smoking: Data obtained from the Cancer Prevention Study II indicated that having three or more drinks per day translated to a 36% increase in risk of dying from pancreatic cancer for never-smokers and a 16% heightened risk for ever-smokers, compared with nondrinkers. This association was only observed for consumption of liquor; not for beer or wine.

Conversely, the esophageal cancer project found no evidence linking a high level of alcohol consumption—or any particular type of alcohol—to the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EA) or adjacent tumors of the esophagogastric junction (EGJA) despite the fact that alcohol intake is a strong and well-established risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC),

Dr. Neal D. Freedman of the National Institutes of Health Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics led a team that examined information from approximately 4,600 cases of these three esophageal cancers. People who had seven or more alcoholic drinks per day were more than 9.5 times more likely to develop ESCC than nondrinkers. However, no increase was observed in the risk of EA or EGJA for any of the alcohol intake measures examined.

“Our results [for EA and EGJA] stand in remarkable contrast to results for [ESCC] in this and previously published studies,” wrote Dr. Freedman and team in their online report for the journal Gut.

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