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Heavy Drinking and Smoking Leads to Early On-Set Pancreatic Cancer

Update Date: Oct 01, 2012 07:55 AM EDT

Among the many bodies of research and warnings on the health risks of smoking and drinking, a new one can be added thanks to a study published by the University of Michigan which reveals that those who smoke and drink heavily may develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than those who don't.

Published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Gastroentreology, the study says that smokers with pancreatic cancer were diagnosed around age 62 and heavy drinkers at age 61 - almost a decade earlier than the average age of 72.

Beer drinkers specifically were found to have been diagnosed earlier than their compatriots who drank alcohol or wine.

The study involved 811 pancreatic cancer patients from the multicenter, international database Pancreatic Cancer Collaborative Registry.

"As screening programs are developed, an understanding of how personal features influence the age of presentation will be important to optimize the timing of those screenings," says lead study author and gastroenterologist Michelle Anderson, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. Detecting pancreatic cancer early is difficult and contributes to the poor survival rates. By the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it is frequently at an advanced stage and has spread to other organs.

Smoking is a strong risk factor for pancreatic cancer and alcohol has been shown to cause oxidative damage to the pancreas, which sets the stage for the inflammatory pathways that can lead to cancer.

Study authors stress that the habits are not known to cause pancreatic cancer, but do accelerate the process of pancreatic deterioration after diagnosis.

Also, researchers add that early stopping of alcohol and tobacco use within 10 years of quitting will have no more or less higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who never smoke or drank at all. 

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