Oct 01, 2012, 07.51 PM IST
People who smoke and drink heavily are at risk of developing pancreatic cancer at an earlier age, according to a new study.
Researchers led by the University of Michigan found that heavy 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.
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.
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.
Currently there are no tests available to easily find it in people who do not have symptoms. The study of 811 pancreatic cancer patients from the multicenter, international database Pancreatic Cancer Collaborative Registry only indicates these habits can lead to developing pancreatic cancer earlier in life it does not prove the habits caused cancer, researchers said in a statement.
The new research does make a step toward understanding at what age screening for pancreatic cancer should begin - once widespread screening is available.
"As screening programmes are developed, an understanding of how personal features influence the age of presentation will be important to optimise the timing of those screenings," lead study author and gastroenterologist Michelle Anderson, said.
In the study, heavy smokers were defined as those who had more than a pack per day, and heavy drinking was measured at more than 39 grammes a day, or about three average drinks per day.
Beer drinkers presented with pancreatic cancer earlier than those who drank other types of alcohol, such as wine or hard liquor although when adjusted for the amount of alcohol consumed, the type of alcohol did not affect the age of presentation.
The good news is that the harmful effects of heavy drinking and smoking can be resolved . After 10 years, former smokers and drinkers who quit their habits faced no extra risk of earlier diagnosis, researchers said.
The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
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