Young male drinkers may face increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer

Study showed young drinkers more than three times more likely than non-drinkers to face ‘high grade’ form of disease

‘Heavy alcohol intake from the ages of 15 from 19 was not associated with overall prostate cancer in later life.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Men who have been drinking alcohol since their mid- to late-teens could have an increased chance of developing aggressive prostate cancer in later life, a new study has found.

Research, supported by the Irish Cancer Society, found that compared with non-drinkers, men who had at least seven drinks per week during the ages of 15 and 19 were three times more likely to be being diagnosed with a "high-grade" and more difficult to treat form of the disease.

The research was led by Dublin woman Dr Emma Allott – now based at Queen's University Belfast – during her time at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina.

The results have been published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.


“The prostate is an organ that grows rapidly during puberty, so it’s potentially more susceptible to carcinogenic exposure during the adolescent years,” Dr Allott said.

“For this reason, we wanted to investigate if heavy alcohol consumption in early life was associated with the aggressiveness of prostate cancer later.”

Researchers looked at data from 650 men undergoing a prostate biopsy in North Carolina between 2007 and 2018. The subjects had no prior history of prostate cancer, were aged between 49 and 89, and racially diverse.

They were asked to complete questionnaires on the average amount of alcohol they drank weekly during each decade of life to determine age-specific and cumulative lifetime alcohol intake.

Heavy alcohol intake from the ages of 15 from 19 was not associated with overall prostate cancer in later life although having at least seven drinks per week during this age period was associated with 3.2 times the odds of high-grade prostate cancer compared with non-drinkers.

Similar associations were observed among those who had at least seven drinks per week in their 20s, 30s and 40s, compared with non-drinkers.

There were, however, some limitations to the study. There was a reliance on self-reported data, while some of the heavy drinkers were also heavy smokers, and even when adjusted, the sample size was not large enough to determine the potential effects.

Also, those who drank heavily in early life typically continued to do so throughout their entire life, making it impossible to definitively separate the potential effects of early-life and cumulative exposure.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times