It’s a loaded question (pun intended): Does having a drug use disorder increase risk for cancer? To be clear, for this article, “drug use” includes alcohol intake. This is a hard-hitting question and thought it was worth the search for deeper insights, based on the increasing rates of addiction and incidences of cancer in the United States. If there is a distinguishing link between the two, it strengthens the argument for personal advocacy and accountability of our own health care.
Long-term Drug Use Is Toxic to the Body
An element to consider when assessing the risks of drug use in relation to cancer is time. It isn’t just about the frequency of use but the longevity of time using. There are increased risks of developing serious medical issues from early and excessive intake of alcohol or marijuana; I will address this in more detail further in this article. But time, or how long we make regular alcohol or drug intake a habit, can lead to drug toxicity – even if you don’t increase the level or potency of use. That’s scary and another reason why you don’t control drugs, they control you.
Drug Toxicity Happens to the Unsuspecting
Be wary from the moment you turn 35 years old. It doesn’t matter how healthy you think you are…. age-related kidney inefficiency begins. Through the aging process, normal kidney function and the liver’s filtration abilities digress decade-to-decade. At first, you might be thinking, “Well, yeah, no big deal.” But here’s why it matters.
If you are on medication, legal or elicit, and your dosage has not changed from the time you started taking it, because the kidneys and liver cannot process the drug as quickly or effectively, the body and the mind will become more sensitive to it. Over time, the excess drug will remain in your systems building up toxicity. This is something to consider, each time you pick up a refill on a prescription or wonder why you’re feeling those three glasses of wine on Friday night more than before.
Substance Abuse Induces Stress to Internal Systems
It has been long known that tobacco use, cannabis, other drugs can compromise health and increase the risk for morbidity as a result. (Now I can hear the cries of opposition). No doubt about the effects of tobacco and alcohol though on the subject of marijuana and opioids – there are conflicting facts on science-based evidence and their roles with respect to cancer.
Numerous studies led by oncologists are ongoing as the need to understand how drug use aggravates cancer cells is of concern. Findings show a link between aggressive testicular cancer and patients’ regular use of marijuana as adolescents. However, there are indications that certain strains of cannabis carry biological, anticancer activities providing a mechanism for therapeutic relief from pain associated with cancer. The same has been said from medical experts about the monitored use of prescription pills to minimize pain, and now we’re dealing with an opioid epidemic. Moreover, prescription pain pills are viewed as having oncogenic factors, genes that can predispose healthy cells toward cancerous cell mutation.
Cancer Treatment Degraded by Drug Abuse
On the flip side of oncology research and drug use is how substances can reduce the efficacy of cancer treatment. According to a recent study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Substance abuse reduces treatment compliance, worsens cancer prognosis and seems to be a negative factor for the quality of life.” While a cancer patient can easily find temporary comfort in the regular use of drugs, the same risks of dependency and addiction apply. Recommendations by oncologists in nutrition, medical treatments and therapies are often ignored by patients as rational thought and sound judgement can be offset by drug need.
Light Alcohol Intake Is a Precursor to Cancer
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) studied adults in the United States and their perspectives on alcohol intake and cancer risk. More than 4,000 participants were included in the 2017 survey, with just 38 percent of them being mindful of their alcohol consumption as the means to reduce cancer risk.
Did you ever think about cancer when you chugged a beer or threw down a shot of tequila? Here are some statistics that may have you thinking that cancer risk should be top of mind before hitting a happy hour or contemplating addiction relapse…
6% of new cancer diagnoses and deaths are due to alcohol. ~ ASCO
The medical association also emphatically called out alcohol as a direct link to increased risk for developing the following cancers:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Throat cancer
In addition, ASCO points to heavier alcohol consumption and extended time of consumption (years) magnifying cancer risk.
Drug and Alcohol Manufacturers Reluctant to Spell Out the Truth
Assuming beverage manufacturers are in the business of making product that makes them money, warning labels affixed to their alcoholic offerings are subject to a raised eyebrow or two. Now that you know some of the current information out there about the connection between drug and alcohol intake and cancer risk, why is it so difficult for their manufacturers to acknowledge the truth and put a label on it?
Here’s what the current requirements are for alcoholic beverage labels:
“GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems”
Pretty ambiguous. Opioid prescription drug makers were required to follow new guidelines in warning labels, as of December 2016, noting the risks for overuse, addiction, overdose and death. Better late than never? Tell that to the millions of people who are actively addicted to prescription opioids and heroin.
Be an Advocate for Your Own Care
The American Cancer Society released its forecast for reported new cancer cases and cancer deaths for 2017 in the United States.
1,688,780 new cancer cases
600,920 cancer deaths
If you are currently on a health regimen that includes consistent use of medications, keep a journal noting any changes in how you feel or how you look. With aging, hormonal changes, unexpected life stressors, weight loss or weight gain, and addition or subtraction of medications can affect how your body and mind react to them, including over the counter drugs. It’s worth an extra conversation with your health practitioner just to be sure you’re where you need to be.
Ready to Take Control of Excessive Alcohol Intake or Drug Use?
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 1-888-NODRUGS
Authored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.