U.S. cancer survivors have surprisingly high rates of alcohol use, researchers say.
"This study highlights the prevalence of current alcohol use among cancer survivors, including an increase in alcohol intake over time and higher rates among younger cancer survivors," said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, chief of GI Medical Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"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," said Denlinger, who was not involved with the study.
Alcohol is a risk factor for several cancers and contributed to almost 6 percent of cancer deaths in 2012, the researchers noted.
In their study, the investigators analyzed data from more than 34,000 cancer survivors who took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 2000 to 2017.
The results showed that 56.5 percent were current drinkers, nearly 35 percent reported excessive drinking, and 21 percent engaged in binge drinking.
Excessive drinking was defined as more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men, and binge drinking was defined as having at least five drinks in one day at any point over the past year.
Binge drinking rates were much higher for younger cancer survivors. Among those aged 18 to 34, nearly 24 percent met the criteria for binge drinking, compared with about 3 percent of those 75 and older.
The study also found that survivors of cancers more associated with younger people -- cervical, testicular, head and neck cancers, and melanoma -- were more likely to report any amount of drinking, while drinking was much less common among breast cancer survivors.
The study authors said that they were surprised to find that better self-reported health was associated with more drinking.
"We would hypothesize that individuals with a diagnosis of cancer who self-report poor health status may be those with persistent or recurrent disease who are undergoing active treatment, or experiencing persistent side effects from prior treatment, and therefore may have been advised not to drink or don't feel well enough to consume alcohol," explained study co-author Dr. Brandon Mahal, from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's McGraw/Patterson Center for Population Sciences, in Boston.
Study co-author Dr. Nina Niu Sanford said, "We recommend that providers screen for alcohol use at regular intervals and provide resources to assist in cutting down use for those who may engage in excessive drinking behaviors." Sanford is an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas.
"Typically, questions about alcohol use are just asked once when the patient first enters the medical system and then copied into subsequent notes as part of the patient's social history," Sanford explained in a news release from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
The study also found that nearly 17 percent of the cancer survivors said they were smokers, and both current and former smokers were more likely to say they were current drinkers.
The researchers said cancer survivors should also be screened for smoking, counseled on both smoking and drinking-related risks, and offered help to quit smoking.
The findings were published in the January issue of the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
The American Cancer Society has more on alcohol and cancer.
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