In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have found an increase in alcohol consumption among cancer survivors that warrants further study and possible alcohol consumption screenings prior to treatment.
A first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network found that there was an increase in alcohol intake among cancer survivors over time and that such rates were higher among younger individuals.
“This is something that (survivors’) providers are interested in knowing about and we are open to discussing any concerns about alcohol use,” Dr. Nina Niu Sanford, assistant professor, and Dedman Family Scholar in Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Radiation Oncology said in an interview with CURE. “And this is hopefully something in the future that we will study more rigorously in terms of the effect of alcohol use on cancer outcomes.”
In this study, the researchers used the National Health Interview Survey from 2000 to 2017 to examine alcohol drinking prevalence and patterns among 34,080 adults reporting a cancer diagnosis. The primary endpoint was current alcohol consumption across various levels: never drinker (versus current/former drinker), former drinker (versus never/current drinker), current drinker (versus former/never drinker), exceeding moderate drinking (yes versus no among current drinkers), and binge drinking (yes versus no among current drinkers).
For this study, the researchers defined binge drinking as the consumption of at least five drinks in one day at any point over the past year before they were surveyed.
Overall, 56.5% of individuals surveyed reported themselves as current drinkers, including 34.9% who exceeded moderate drinking limits and 21.0% who engaged in binge drinking.
Younger age was associated with higher binge drinking rates: Among those aged 18 to 34 years, 23.6% met the criteria for binge drinking, while only 2.6% of those aged 75 and older reported the same. Moreover, survivors of cancer types that are more associated with younger people, like cervical, testicular, head and neck cancers and melanoma, were more likely to report drinking at all levels.
In addition, smoking history and more recent survey period were associated with higher odds of either current, exceeding moderate and binge drinking levels. For example, 16.7% of cancer survivors reported to be current smokers, while both current and former smokers were more likely to report themselves as current drinkers.
As a result, the researchers recommended that survivors be screened for alcohol consumption and smoking, adding that they then be counseled on both smoking and drinking-related health issues and offered cessation support.
“As alcohol intake is a risk factor for cancer development and may contribute to worse outcomes following a diagnosis, this behavior is ripe for education and intervention in the survivor population,” Dr. Crystal S. Denlinger, chief of gastrointestinal medical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said in a press release.
“Currently guidelines for the care of cancer survivors, including the (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) Guidelines for Survivorship, recommend limiting the intake of alcohol,” she added. “Further work to understand optimal dissemination of these recommendations and ways to change alcohol use behavior is clearly needed in the cancer survivor population, particularly among younger survivors.”