Common opioid painkillers may increase pancreatic cancer risk

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In a new study, researchers found that opioid use might increase a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

This is the first study to show that opioid use may be a new risk factor contributing to the increasing incidence of pancreatic cancer.

The research was conducted by a team at Rush University Medical Center.

In fact, opioid misuse and overdose have evolved into a public health crisis. Approximately 70,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in 2017, 68% of which involved an opioid.

The use of prescription opioids for the management of chronic pain has increased remarkably, with more than 191 million opioid prescriptions given to patients in the United States in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the opioid addiction rates among patients who are given opioids for chronic pain have increased, with 29% of such patients misusing opioids, and 12% developing an opioid use disorder.

Pancreatic cancer rates also are increasing in the United States.

Opioids have been shown to have a harmful effect on multiple types of cancer with recent data suggesting opium use as a possible risk factor for pancreatic cancer in West Central Asia.

Population-based studies have suggested opium use to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer in a dose-dependent manner.

While opium use is not a common recreational habit in the United States, opioid use has been rising remarkably over the past decade.

In the study, the team examined the link between opioid use and the changes in the rates of pancreatic cancer during the years 1999-2016.

Using the Center for Disease Control’s Wonder online data, the team extracted the opioid death rate as a surrogate for prescription and illicit opioid use.

They evaluated whether the trend in opioid usage could explain increasing pancreatic cancer diagnoses at the national and state levels over time.

They found that both pancreatic cancer and opioid death rates rose overtime at the national and state levels.

A prior state’s opioid death rate significantly predicted the trend in the incidence of pancreatic cancer years after and had a big effect on the estimated annual change in the rate of this cancer.

The data suggest a link between opioid consumption and the risk of pancreatic cancer.

The next step to directly establish the role of opioids as a novel risk factor for pancreatic cancer is to conduct large population-based studies or longitudinal datasets that reliably register long-term outcomes in opioid users.

Findings from the current study, once confirmed by the individual-level data on opioid consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer, could have direct clinical relevance by considering non-narcotic (alternative) pain control approaches in these patients.

One author of the study is Faraz Bishehsari, MD, Ph.D.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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