REUTERS - People who smoke or drink heavily may develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than those who avoid those habits, according to a U.S. study, but quitting both appears to help.
It's long been known that smoking is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer, a disease that is rarely caught early and has a grim prognosis. Only about five of every 100 people diagnosed with the cancer remain alive five years later.
The evidence on heavy drinking has been more mixed, but some studies have suggested it's also a risk factor. The new results, which appeared in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, show the disease may strike smokers and drinkers earlier in life.
"If you do have these habits, and you're going to develop pancreatic cancer, the age of presentation may be younger," said lead researcher Michelle Anderson, at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Her team also found that the effect disappeared for former smokers and drinkers if they had quit 10 years or more before being diagnosed.
On average, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is about one in 71, and the average age at diagnosis is 72, according to the American Cancer Society.
But in this study, current smokers and heavy drinkers were diagnosed a decade earlier than that.
The findings are based on 811 patients in a pancreatic cancer registry.
Those who were current smokers were typically diagnosed at around age 62, versus age 70 among non-smokers. Heavy drinkers, meanwhile, were typically diagnosed at age 61, almost a decade earlier than non-drinkers.
The findings do not prove that smoking or drinking led to the earlier cancers, but Anderson's team did account for a number of other factors, such as body weight and family history of pancreatic cancer. Smoking and heavy drinking were still linked to earlier diagnoses.
(Reporting from New York by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)