Teenagers who drink heavily are more at risk of getting aggressive prostate cancer later in life, a new study warned.
Those who consumed at least seven drinks per week from 15 to 19 had three times the odds of being diagnosed with “clinically significant prostate cancer.”
And if they then drank steadily through to their 40s, they also increased the odds of getting aggressive prostate cancer by a similar amount.
The findings suggest the cumulative effect of a lifetime of constant heavy drinking was linked to the the most common cancer in men in the UK.
About one in eight men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives and the it usually develops slowly, so there may be no symptoms for many years.
Assistant professor Dr Emma Allott in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina explained “alcohol consumption accounts for a substantial amount of deaths worldwide, with cancer contributing to this burden.
“Mounting evidence supports alcohol as a risk factor for female breast, colorectal, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, and liver cancers, but there is little
agreement concerning its effect on prostate cancer risk.
“The prostate is an organ that grows rapidly during puberty, so it’s potentially more susceptible to carcinogenic exposure during the adolescent years.
“For this reason, we wanted to investigate if heavy alcohol consumption in early life was associated with the aggressiveness of prostate cancer later.”
The study involved questioning 650 men who underwent prostate biopsy at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Centre from 2007 to 2018.
The men had no prior history of prostate cancer, and their ages ranged from 49 to 89.
They filled in a questionnaire on how many drinks they drank at key points over their lives such as before the age of 15, between 15 to 19, 20 to 29 and up to the first five years of the 50 to 59 interval.
The type of drink and serving size was not indicated. They also recorded how many cigarettes they smoked over the decades too.
Researchers then calculated their cumulative lifetime alcohol intake.
Of the 650, 325 were diagnosed with the cancer and of these 88 had the highest grade. The grade was assigned using the Epstein 5-grade group system.
The study found heavy alcohol intake at ages 15 to 19 was not associated with overall prostate cancer.
However, consumption of at least seven drinks per week during this age was associated with 3.2 times the odds of high-grade prostate cancer compared with non-drinkers.
Similar associations were observed among those who consumed at least seven alcoholic drinks per week at ages 20 to 29, 30 to 39, and 40 to 49, resulting in 3.14, 3.09, and 3.64 times the odds of high-grade prostate cancer, respectively, compared with non-drinkers.
But current alcohol consumption was not significantly associated with high-grade prostate cancer.
Compared with men in the lowest tertile of lifetime alcohol intake, those in the upper tertile had 3.2 times the odds of being diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer at biopsy.
Prof Allott said: “We found that men with a history of heavier alcohol exposure earlier in life were more likely to be diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer at biopsy,
compared with men without earlier-life alcohol exposure.
“We also found that higher cumulative lifetime alcohol intake was associated with increased odds of high-grade disease.
“In contrast, we found no association between current drinking patterns and overall or high-grade prostate cancer diagnosis.
“Though additional studies are needed, these data suggest that heavier drinking patterns earlier in life may be associated with high-grade prostate cancer.
“Our results may explain why previous evidence linking alcohol intake and prostate cancer has been somewhat mixed.
“It’s possible that the effect of alcohol comes from a lifetime intake, or from intake earlier in life rather than alcohol patterns around the time of diagnosis of prostate cancer.”
However Prof Allott cautioned the results relied on people recalling how much they drank over the years drinking and heavy drinkers within the study were often heavy smokers.
And as those who drank heavily early on tended to continue drinking heavily throughout their entire life so researchers could definitely not separate the potential effects of early-life exposure of alcohol from cumulative lifetime exposure.
The study was published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.