Alcohol is known to be carcinogenic to humans in the upper aerodigestive tract, liver, colorectum, and the female breast.
Evidence suggests that acetaldehyde, the primary metabolite of alcohol, plays a major role in alcohol-related esophageal cancer.
Breast Cancer and Liver Cancer
A new study using human cells has established linkages between alcohol metabolism and acetaldehyde-DNA damage that may have implications for breast and liver cancers.
Results will be published in the December 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"Although the link between drinking alcohol and certain types of cancers was first established in the 1980s," said Philip J. Brooks, program director in the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), "the existence of such a relationship did not prove that alcohol itself caused the cancers.
Ethanol from Alcohol is Carcinogenic
More recent evidence, however, has confirmed that alcohol – or more specifically, ethanol – is carcinogenic to humans at several sites in the body." Brooks, who is the corresponding author for the study, carried out this research while he was an investigator in the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics, part of the Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research.
"As our work was done in a cell culture system, using alcohol concentrations designed to correspond to blood alcohol levels attained during social drinking, it remains to be shown whether our findings reflect what happens in human body during alcohol drinking," said Brooks. "Similarly, while our work is consistent with a role for acetaldehyde in alcohol related liver and breast cancer, more studies in animals and humans will be necessary to prove such a role."
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Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Co-authors of the ACER paper, "Alcohol Metabolism in Human Cells Causes DNA Damage and Activates the Fanconi Anemia – Breast Cancer Susceptibility (FA-BRCA) DNA Damage Response Network," were: Jessy Abraham of the Section on Molecular Neurobiology in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Silvia Balbo of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota; and David Crabb of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the Department of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.