Opioid Use May Be Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

The use of opioids may increase an individual’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

Researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, designed this study to determine associations between rates of opioid use and pancreatic cancer development in the United States between 1996 and 2016. Data on pancreatic cancer incidence rates in the U.S. were collected and compared with data on opioid-related mortality, a surrogate marker to account for both prescription and illicit opioid use.

In total, there were more than 700,000 incident cases of pancreatic cancer and more than 351,000 opioid overdose deaths during this period. Opioid use data were matched to pancreatic cancer rates four years later to account for potential lag time until disease development. Data on lifestyle and behavioral factors that could affect cancer risk, such as obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking, were also included in the analysis.

The investigators found significant geographic differences in pancreatic cancer incidence and opioid-related mortality, but both figures increased during the study period in most states. The overall average rate of pancreatic cancer incidence increased at an unadjusted rate of 0.137 percentage points per year. Rates of opioid-related mortality also increased significantly during this time, at an unadjusted increase of 0.546 percentage points per year.

Upon cross-sectional analysis, the researchers determined that increased pancreatic cancer incidence was significantly associated with the 4-year lagged opioid death rate. The effect reduced over time but remained statistically significant.

According to the researchers, population-based studies are needed to confirm opioid use as an independent predictor of pancreatic cancer risk, as well as future studies on the mechanisms that link opioids to cancer progression.