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Research Summary

Issue of Journal Alcohol Focuses on Cancer Risk

The journal Alcohol dedicated a recent issue (volume 35) to the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. The issue reviewed the epidemiology of alcohol-associated cancer, the relationship between alcohol and specific cancers, and the potential mechanisms through which alcohol may increase cancer risk.

Some key findings include the following:

  • Up to 80% of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and larynx are attributable to alcohol use.
  • Light-to-moderate alcohol use has been linked to colorectal and breast cancers; heavier consumption is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the liver, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, stomach, and pancreas.
  • Alcohol may increase cancer risk through various possible mechanisms including (but not limited to) by

    • producing acetaldehyde (a weak mutagen and carcinogen);
    • altering estrogen metabolism and response, and inactivating the tumor suppressor gene BRCA1 (breast cancer);
    • inducing oxidative damage;
    • decreasing S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) levels (liver cancer);
    • interfering with the metabolism of retinoids, which substantially affect cellular growth and differentiation;
    • impeding metabolism of folate, which may prevent alcohol-related cancers.

Comments:

Clinicians and patients seem to pay more attention to the possible benefits of moderate drinking and well-known consequences of heavier drinking than to alcohol-related cancer risks. This issue of Alcohol will hopefully raise awareness of the effects of alcohol use on a wide range of cancers.

Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH
Richard Saitz, MD, MPH

Reference:

Alcohol. 2005;35(3).

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