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Alcohol and cancer

  • Drinking alcohol is linked to a greater risk of tumors in the esophagus, mouth, larynx and liver.
  • Alcoholics also have a greater incidence of genetic damage than normal.
  • A new study has found that alcohol contributes to the destructiveness of certain carcinogens.
  • Acetaldehyde, the first product of alcohol metabolism, appears to play a key role in the damage.

Cancer, the often-deadly process during which normal body cells are transformed into malignant ones, likely involves change in the genetic material of the cells known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Oncogenes are those genes that regulate cell growth, proliferation, and repair of tissues. Oncogenes are also the targets of carcinogenic agents such as asbestos, ultraviolet rays of the sun, and cigarette smoking. A study in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research investigates if alcohol exposure can increase the cytotoxicity (cell destructiveness) of known carcinogenic agents that could, in turn, damage DNA and lead to mutation or cancer.

We are bombarded by potential carcinogenic agents everyday in our environment, said Richard A. Deitrich, professor of pharmacology at the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Most of these do not cause cancer, but given a boost from alcohol, some of them may.

Epidemiological studies have shown that drinking alcohol is associated with an increased risk of tumors in the esophagus, mouth, larynx and liver, noted David B. Couch, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Mississippi and lead author of the study. Blood cells of alcoholics also have a greater incidence of genetic damage than do members of the general population. It has been unclear, however, if alcohol itself causes these effects. The key finding of our study was to show that, in the model system used, alcohol exposure could produce effects consistent with inhibition of the base e
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14-Mar-2002


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