Alcohol Modestly Increases Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Posted on March 8th, 2009 by

Alcohol Modestly Increases Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

According to a combined analysis of 14 previous studies, individuals who consume more than about 2½ drinks per day are 22% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nondrinkers. These results were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.

Worldwide, an estimated 3.5% of all cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol.[1] Links have been established between alcohol and several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, colon and rectum, and liver.[2] Risk of some of these cancers-such as cancer of the mouth-is particularly elevated in people who both smoke and drink.

The way in which alcohol contributes to cancer development is still uncertain, and may vary by cancer type, but there are several possible explanations for the link. In the case of breast cancer, many researchers have speculated that alcohol increases risk by altering the levels of hormones such as estrogen.[3] The risk of breast and other cancers may also be increased by potentially carcinogenic compounds, such as acetaldehyde, that are produced during alcohol metabolism (the processing of alcohol by the body).

To evaluate the link between alcohol and risk of pancreatic cancer, researchers conducted a combined analysis of information from 14 previous studies.[4] These studies included a total of more than 800,000 people, 2,187 of whom were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Compared with nondrinkers, individuals who consumed 30 grams of alcohol (roughly 2½ drinks) or more per day were 22% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. This increased risk is not particularly large, but it was statistically significant, meaning that it’s unlikely to have occurred by chance alone.

This study suggests that higher levels of alcohol consumption modestly increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

People who choose to drink alcohol are advised to do so in moderation. For women, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day.[5] For men, moderate drinking is defined as no more than two drinks per day.


[1] Boffetta P, Hashibe M, La Vecchia C, Zatonski W, Rehm J. The burden of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking. International Journal of Cancer. 2006;119:884-887.

[2] World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

[3] Rinaldi S, Peeters PHM, Bezemer ID et al. Relationship of alcohol intake and sex steroid concentrations in blood in pre- and post-menopausal women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Cancer Causes and Control. 2006;17:1033-1043.

[4] Genkinger JM, Spiegelman D, Anderson KE et al. Alcohol intake and pancreatic cancer risk: a pooled analysis of fourteen cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention [early online publication]. March 3, 2009.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005. Available at: (Accessed February 16, 2008).

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