Friday, November 22, 2013

Purple with a Purpose: Alcohol misuse ups pancreatic damage, especially in men

People wearing purple Nov. 22 are doing so in support of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of pancreatic disease and cancer is to cut back on the alcohol or stop all together. Alcohol abusers and those with the disease of alcoholism are 1.6 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, the most fatal of cancers and one of the hardest to detect.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but is expect to become the second in 2020. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year alone.

Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women, however it has recently moved from the tenth to the ninth most common cancer in females. As an additional shot across the bow for men: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers isolated a gene variant in men that puts those who drink heavily at risk for pancreatitis. While painful and treatable, long-term pancreatitis has been linked to cancer of the pancreas.

The researcher’s report, online in the journal Nature Genetics, found the genetic defect in half the men with chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly, with severe upper abdominal pain and can be a serious, life-threatening illness if not treated. The most common symptoms of pancreatitis acute abdominal pain, pain radiating into the back, nausea, vomiting and fever. The symptoms may last for a few days then disappear off and on.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are risk factors for developing the disease of pancreatitis, but the new research shows men with a flaw on the X chromosome are more likely to have pancreatic troubles if they drink heavily. Women with the same flaw were not as likely to get the disease. The study suggests the second X chromosome in women protects them, while men have only one X chromosome and a Y.

The gene doesn’t cause pancreatitis but increases the risk in drinkers.

“The discovery that chronic pancreatitis has a genetic basis solves a major mystery about why some people develop chronic pancreatitis and others do not,” study lead author Dr. David Whitcomb, professor of medicine, cell biology and physiology, and human genetics, said in a university news release.

“We also knew there was an unexpected higher risk of men developing pancreatitis with alcohol consumption, but until now we weren’t sure why,” he said. “Our discovery of this new genetic variant on chromosome X helps explain this mystery as well.”
(from -- see full article)

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