Alcohol consumption may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, according to a Georgetown study published earlier this month.

Jeanine Genkinger, an assistant professor at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, was the lead author of the analysis. Twenty-seven other researchers were involved in the project. Their findings were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, an American Association for Cancer Research journal.

The data indicates “a slight positive association with pancreatic cancer risk among those who consumed two or more alcoholic beverages per day – a 22 percent increased risk,” Genkinger said in an e-mail.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a drink as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. According to Genkinger, consuming one type of alcohol over another – such as wine over beer – did not seem to affect the results.

Previous work on the biological analysis of alcohol and pancreatic cancer had connected high alcohol consumption with intermediate conditions that, in turn, have been related to pancreatic cancer. Genkinger’s study advances this study further by directly tying frequent alcohol intake with pancreatic cancer.

“Heavy alcohol drinking has been positively associated with risk of chronic pancreatitis and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, two diseases that have been associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer,” she said in an e-mail. “Thus, high alcohol intake has been hypothesized to be associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Prior studies . [had] shown inconsistent results.”

Genkinger added that the study pooled analysis from 14 previous studies, meaning that Genkinger and her team of co-authors collected and re-evaluated the data of the primary analyses. The total data pool consisted of 862,664 individuals, among whom 2,187 cases of pancreatic cancer were observed. She also connected this study on alcohol to broader work being done on other elements of pancreatic cancer risk. She hopes that these breakthrough findings might facilitate more effective prevention techniques.

When asked about how her findings could impact Georgetown students, Genkinger placed the results in the context of more general correlations between alcohol and cancer, and emphasized that she believes there are safe levels of alcohol consumption.

“Higher alcohol intake has been associated with higher risk of a number of cancers – pharynx, larynx, esophageal, colorectal in men and breast cancer in women – thus alcohol intake is an important risk factor,” Genkinger said in an e-mail. “In line with the World Cancer Research Fund, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, we recommend that women consume no more than one alcohol beverage per day and men consume no more than two alcohol beverages per day.”

One student, Noreen Shaikh (COL `12), stressed the benefit of the new findings for overall alcohol awareness, but did not express serious worry.

“This new information seems irrelevant to most of us who do not consume two or three drinks on a daily basis,” she said. “Even so, it broadens our understanding of the detrimental effects of alcohol and only adds to those already known. As new research discovers more of alcohol’s consequences, it simply becomes more important that people take care of their health and drink responsibly.”

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