Opioid misuse may lead to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, according to recent research published in PLOS One.1
Scientists already know that certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol use, may contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer, but while these risk factors have been decreasing over the years at a population level, pancreatic cancer instances have been rising. So, the researchers sought out to determine if opioid use – which has also been increasing – and pancreatic cancer have any kind of correlation.
“While opium use is not a common recreational habit in the US, opioid use has been rising remarkably over the past decade,” the researchers wrote. “In fact, opioid misuse and overdose have evolved into a public health crisis.”
Previous studies have shown that opioids may have “a potential to promote cancer progression and metastases in multiple different types of cancers…” researchers noted, supporting their reasoning for investigating any potential relationship between opioid use and pancreatic cancer.
The researchers used national databases to analyze pancreatic cancer incidence rates from 1999 to 2016 and opioid death rates (which points toward opioid misuse) between 1999 and 2016. Overall, there were 700,300 incident cases of pancreatic cancer and 351,630 opioid overdose deaths.
This data was analyzed on both a state and national level.
Increased opioid-related deaths had a statistically significant association with increased pancreatic cancer rates (p<.0001), as well as with alcohol use (p=.0007). Interestingly, there was no statistically significant correlation between obesity rates and pancreatic cancer incidence, (p=.493), though there was a correlation between obesity and risk of dying from the disease (p=.0002).
“Although the overall trend in [pancreatic cancer] rates is increasing across the states, the rate of the increase is larger for those states starting at lower opioid levels and lower for those that started with higher levels of opioid usage,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers explained that this study found that opioid use may be a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, laying the groundwork for future, larger studies to better understand the correlation between the two, if there is any.
If these findings are confirmed in future researchers, nurses and health care professionals nationwide may want to think twice before prescribing or administering this type of drug.
“Once confirmed, implications of the opioids on [pancreatic cancer] development are clinically significant given the widespread opioid usage in the country,” the researchers wrote. “Furthermore, opioids are widely used for pain management in pancreatitis, an established precursor to [pancreatic cancer], as well as in the cancer itself.”
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Barlass U, Deshmukh A, Beck T, Bishehsari F. Opioid use as a potential risk factor for pancreatic cancer in the United States: An analysis of state and national level databases. PLOS One. Jan. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244285