Author: Shreeya Nanda
Over half of cancer survivors report being current drinkers, including about a fifth who appear to engage in excessive drinking behaviors, finds a US study.
“Given that alcohol intake has implications for cancer prevention and is a potentially modifiable risk factor for cancer-specific outcomes, the high prevalence of alcohol use among cancer survivors highlights the need for public health strategies aimed at the reduction of alcohol consumption,” write the study authors in JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
They used data from 34,080 participants of the US National Health Interview Survey interviewed between 2000 and 2017 who reported a history of cancer.
In all, 56.5% of the total cohort reported being current drinkers, including 34.9% who exceeded moderate drinking limits – defined as a daily intake of more than one drink for women and more than two drinks for men – and 21.0% who engaged in binge drinking, which was defined as at least five drinks per day on at least one occasion in the past year.
Researcher Nina Sanford (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, USA) and colleagues caution that for the blood alcohol concentration to reach the threshold for binge drinking, drinks generally need to be consumed within 2 hours, but the survey did not collect information on the duration of alcohol intake and therefore participants who reported binge drinking may not have reached the biologic threshold.
They also investigated factors linked to alcohol use, finding that younger age (18–34 years vs other age groups), current or former smoking status, and later survey period (2010–2014 and 2015–2017 vs 2000–2004) were significantly associated with a greater likelihood of current drinking, exceeding moderate drinking limits, and binge drinking.
For other factors, such as sex and ethnicity, associations were observed for some of the levels of current drinking but not all – for instance, female sex was significantly associated with exceeding moderate limits, but male sex was a significant predictor of reporting current drinking and binge drinking.
The prevalence rates and predictive factors were similar in sensitivity analyses that included just the 20,828 participants who had been diagnosed at least 5 years prior to survey administration.
“By reporting the demographic and socioeconomic variables associated with alcohol intake, our work begins to identify subgroups toward whom alcohol-based interventions could be targeted, and could serve as a benchmark for assessing changes in drinking behavior in the population of patients with cancer,” say Sanford et al.
Individuals with a history of cervical or testicular cancer were significantly more likely to report current drinking, exceeding moderate limits, and binge drinking compared with participants reporting other tumor types. Additionally, those with a history of head and neck cancer or melanoma were also significantly more likely to report binge drinking.
This finding is “likely a reflection of the predominant demographic characteristics—particularly younger age—associated with these cancer diagnoses, rather than an intrinsic association between cancer type and alcohol use,” comment the researchers.
Sanford and colleagues highlight the need for further research, “including large-scale systems-based research on alcohol use in cancer survivors.”
And they conclude: “For the time being, because oncologists have a responsibility to promote the overall health and well-being of their patients, efforts should be undertaken to accurately assess alcohol intake among cancer survivors and to inform these individuals of the potential harms associated with continued drinking.”