Heavy Drinking Increases Pancreatic Cancer Risk

People who drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day have an increased risk of dying of pancreatic cancer. These results were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Worldwide, an estimated 3.5% of all cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol. 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. Risk of some of these cancers—such as cancer of the mouth—is particularly elevated in people who both smoke and drink.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Each year, approximately 43,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States and more than 37,000 die from the disease. The disease is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, and improved approaches to early detection and treatment are important research priorities.

To explore the relationship between alcohol and pancreatic cancer, researchers from the American Cancer Society evaluated information from the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II). The CPS-II is a long-term study of roughly one million U.S. adults age 30 and older. Information about alcohol intake was first collected in 1982. A total of 6,847 pancreatic cancer deaths have occurred among study subjects.

Forty-six percent of male study participants and 63% of female study participants were non-drinkers.

  • People who consumed three or more alcohol beverages per day were more likely to die of pancreatic cancer than non-drinkers. Among never-smokers, heavy drinking increased the risk of pancreatic death by 36%. Among those who had ever smoked, heavy drinking increased the risk of pancreatic cancer death by 16%.
  • Liquor was more strongly linked with pancreatic cancer death than beer or wine.

The results suggest that heavy alcohol consumption (particularly heavy liquor consumption) increases the risk of pancreatic cancer death.


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.

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

Gapstur SM, Jacobs EJ, Deka A et al. Association of alcohol intake with pancreatic cancer mortality in never smokers. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171:444-451.

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