Thursday, August 10, 2023

Cancer Survivors Commonly Engage in Risky Drinking, Study Suggests

Alcohol consumption and risky drinking behaviors are prevalent among both cancer survivors and patients who have received cancer treatment within the past year, according to a study published today in JAMA Network Open.

“Alcohol consumption, which is ubiquitous in the U.S. and causally linked with multiple types of cancer … is also associated with adverse health outcomes among individuals with a diagnosis of cancer, including higher risks of recurrence or onset of new primary cancers as well as death,” wrote Mengyao Shi, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., of Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine and colleagues. “In addition, alcohol is associated with worsened treatment outcomes, such as decreased effectiveness and increased risk of complications.”

Shi and colleagues identified cancer survivors among the 142,100 participants enrolled in the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. The program collects data using survey responses and electronic health record data. The participants self-reported cancer diagnoses; age at cancer diagnosis; and current treatment status, including if they were currently receiving treatment for cancer. Further, the authors used linked electronic health record data to identify participants who underwent cancer treatment anytime in the year leading up to the survey.

As part of the All of Us Research surveys, participants were asked about their alcohol consumption. Those who had had at least one drink in their lifetime but reported not having any alcohol in the past year were considered former drinkers, and those who had at least one alcoholic drink in the past year were considered current drinkers. Participants were characterized as participating in risky drinking behaviors if they exceeded moderate drinking levels (consumed more than two drinks on a typical drinking day), engaged in binge drinking (drank six or more drinks on one occasion), or if they engaged in hazardous drinking (had scores of three or higher for women or four or higher for men on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption).

Of 15,199 participants included in the study, 77.7% were current drinkers. Additional findings include the following:

  • Among current drinkers, 13% exceeded moderate drinking, 23.8% reported binge drinking, and 38.3% engaged in hazardous drinking.
  • Participants who were men, younger than age 65, of Hispanic ethnicity, or who received a cancer diagnosis before age 18 were more likely to exceed moderate drinking.
  • Among 76.4% of participants who received cancer treatment in the past year and were current drinkers, 12.1% exceeded moderate drinking; 23.4% engaged in binge drinking; and 38.4% engaged in hazardous drinking.

“Taken together, our findings point to the immediate and unmet need to intervene on the behalf of individuals with risky drinking behaviors in oncologic care settings,” Shi and colleagues wrote. “Given that drinking is deeply ingrained in societal norms and rituals, and considering the limited awareness of how alcohol consumption is associated with cancer outcomes, it is imperative to provide support to patients who are identified as alcohol users and offer them guidance.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “NIAAA Director Hopeful About Growing Awareness of Risks, Harms of Alcohol.

(Image: iStock/skynesher)

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