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Heavy Smokers, Drinkers May Face Pancreatic Cancer Earlier in Life

Study found diagnoses came almost a decade sooner than for people without those habits

FRIDAY, Oct. 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Heavy smokers and drinkers may develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than other people, according to a new study.

The average age at which patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 72, according to the American Cancer Society.

But this study of more than 800 pancreatic cancer patients found that heavy smokers were diagnosed at about age 62 and heavy drinkers at age 61 -- a decade earlier than the average age at diagnosis.

Heavy smokers were defined as those who smoked more than one pack of cigarettes a day, and heavy drinkers were those who averaged three drinks per day.

The study also found that beer drinkers were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than those who drank other types of alcohol, such as wine or liquor. But when the researchers took the amount of alcohol consumed into account, the type of alcohol did not affect the age at diagnosis.

The good news was that the harmful effects of heavy smoking and drinking can be reversed. Ten years after giving up their unhealthy habits, former smokers and drinkers did not have an increased risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an earlier age.

The study was published online Aug. 28 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The findings could help determine at what age screening for pancreatic cancer should begin, once widespread screening is available.

"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," lead study author and gastroenterologist Dr. Michelle Anderson, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, said in a UMHS news release.

Although the study found associations between heavy drinking, smoking and pancreatic cancer diagnosis at younger ages, it did not prove cause-and-effect relationships.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about pancreatic cancer.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, Oct. 1, 2012
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