The rare symptom of cancer in young people that appears when you drink alcohol
By Vanessa Chalmers
November 23, 2021
Most people have suffered the nasty side effects of alcohol at least once in their lifetime.
But for some people, they never thought it could lead to a cancer diagnosis.
In extremely rare events, a type of cancer that is most common in young people can trigger symptoms when boozing.
Lymphoma cancer is a blood cancer that is diagnosed 19,500 times a year in the UK.
Symptoms include a lump in the neck, armpit or groin, feeling worn-out for no reason, unexplained weight loss, excessive sweating at night and constant itching for no reason.
There are around 60 different types of lymphoma, which are broadly grouped into Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas.
Alcohol-related symptoms are seen in those with Hodgkin lymphoma, diagnosed around 2,100 times a year in the UK, mostly in people in their early twenties or those over 70.
Around one in 20 will experience alcohol-induced pain, says Lymphoma Action.
This is felt in the lymph nodes – glands that are commonly found in the neck, armpit and groin.
Dr. Graham Collins, Consultant Haematologist, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said lymph glands are “packed with abnormal cells” when there is cancer.
He told The Sun: “Alcohol can relax blood vessels which may lead to a further increase in pressure within the lymph nodes putting a strain on the surrounding capsule and causing pain.”
The lymph nodes may already be swollen, achy and painful.
Women with Hodgkin lymphoma are most prone to pain when drinking, according to Harvard doctors writing a paper in Anesthesiology.
They said: “The alcohol content of a liqueur-filled chocolate or even a sip of beer has been reported to trigger the pain.
“The onset of pain is immediate; the patient descriptions of pain vary from ‘aching’ to ‘stabbing’, and the intensity ranges from mild to unbearable, forcing some patients to give up alcohol entirely.”
Some patients have also reported taking over-the-counter painkillers when drinking, completely unaware the pain was a warning sign of a deadly disease.
For example, doctors in Nashville described a 31-year-old man who had been taking ibuprofen every time he drank for three months.
When he went to the hospital, he explained a history of severe chest pain minutes after ingesting only two or three sips of alcohol.
The man also had occasional fevers, night sweats and general fatigue, medics in Nashville said.
Scans showed the man had a mass on his lung and a biopsy of a lymph node on his windpipe confirmed a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.
Luckily, treatment put him into full remission – and he was able to enjoy booze again as chemotherapy quickly stopped the chest pain.
Another male, 32, from China, presumed he had sciatica which was exacerbated by drinking until medics gave him a cancer diagnosis.
Lymphoma cancer is nearly always treatable; most people live for many years after being diagnosed.
But sadly, more than 500 people die of both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin cancer each year in the UK.