Drinking regularly as a teenage boy triples the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer decades later, research suggests.
Those who had at least seven drinks a week between the ages of 15 and 19 were three times as likely to develop severe prostate cancer in their 60s, 70s or 80s, scientists found.
Alcohol consumption has long been linked to other forms of the disease, particularly breast, liver and bowel cancer. But until now evidence has been mixed about the link between drinking and prostate cancer. Experts from the US, however, believe that was because previous research had not looked back far enough in someone’s life.
Their findings suggest drinking when young – while the prostate is still developing – could dramatically increase the danger.
Drinking in someone’s 60s, in comparison, had no impact on prostate cancer risk.
Researcher author Dr Emma Allott, from the University of North Carolina, said: ‘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.’
Prostate cancer deaths are increasing every year in Britain, as breast cancer deaths fall. Earlier this year prostate cancer became a bigger killer than breast cancer for the first time, with 11,800 men now dying annually, compared with 11,400 women with breast cancer.
The Daily Mail is campaigning to end needless prostate deaths through earlier diagnosis, better awareness and improved treatments. The scientists, whose work is published in the Cancer Prevention Research journal, found the link between alcohol and prostate cancer was roughly consistent until someone’s 40s. After that the effect disappeared.
Dr Allott’s team questioned 650 ex-servicemen aged 49 to 89 who were having biopsy tests for prostate cancer. The men were asked about their weekly alcohol consumption during each decade of life.
Those who had at least seven ‘standard’ US drinks – each the equivalent of a bottle of beer or a glass of wine – every week in their teens were 3.2 times as likely as non-drinkers to develop aggressive prostate cancer.
The same level of drinking between their 20s and 40s resulted in a similar risk. But by the time they were in their 60s, the amount they drank seemed to have no impact on their prostate cancer, suggesting the damage had been done years before.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, of Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘As highlighted by the researchers, these studies are tricky to interpret as they rely on participants accurately reporting their drinking and eating habits from a significantly long time ago.
‘It is also very difficult to single out the impact of drinking alcohol from other factors. We do know that alcohol plays a role in the development of some cancers and should be consumed in moderation.’