Alcohol can increase cancer risk by damaging DNA

Ebony Scott
January 5, 2018

"Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers", Professor Patel noted.

Doctors have previously linked alcohol consumption to an increase risk of developing seven types of cancer, but until now, exactly how alcohol causes DNA damage hasn't been really clear. When the body is over-flushed with acetaldehyde, the molecule accumulates within the cells and starts to cause DNA and chromosomal damage.

Much of the previous research carried out by scientists looking at precisely how alcohol causes cancer has been conducted in cell cultures, but in their latest study they used mice to show how exposure to booze leads to permanent genetic damage. Apparently, drinking alcoholic beverages causes some level of DNA damage in stem cells, increasing cancer risks.

This was followed by observing the effects of DNA sequencing and chromosome analysis. Although some lesions happen by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of such harm, "Patel said".

Not having the two defense mechanisms increases one's risks of developing cancer and damaging their DNA through alcohol consumption.

It has always been known that a build up of carcinogenic acetaldehyde - a chemical produced when the body processes alcohol - is the principal cause of seven types of cancer, especially breast cancer in women as well as bowel and mouth cancer.

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To see whether DNA in HSCs carried damaged genetic information, the researchers then transplanted damaged HSCs into mice that had their bone marrow destroyed by radiation.

When the body breaks down alcohol, it briefly converts it into a chemical called acetaldehyde For most people, acetaldehyde is only a temporary by-product of alcohol, before it is oxidized by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). This is especially true to people who have heritage from Southeast Asia, many of whom have faulty versions of these enzymes - or none of them at all. When we genetically remove both protection mechanisms in mice, they become hugely prone to alcohol induced DNA damage.

"Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells". We discovered that one of the factors that damage the DNA in these cells is a byproduct of alcohol metabolism, the chemical acetaldehyde.

"But", he continues, "it's important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not ideal and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defense mechanisms are intact". It is possible that the body's defence mechanisms against acetaldehyde are weaker in other tissues.

Since alcohol contributes to an estimated 12,000 annual cancer cases in the country, they contend, the study is further proof that most should cut back on how much they indulge.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention, added that this "thought-provoking research,"published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, highlights the "damage alcohol can do to our cells, costing some people more than just a hangover".

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