Alcohol and Cancer
Drinking alcohol regularly can increase the risk of 7 different cancers. It is likely that different cancers are caused in different ways. Cancers linked to alcohol include:
- Mouth cancer
- Pharyngeal cancer (upper throat)
- Oesophageal cancer (food pipe)
- Laryngeal cancer (voice box)
- Breast cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Liver cancer
What is acetaldehyde and how can it cause cancer?
In our bodies, alcohol (ethanol) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde.
It can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage. The International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified acetaldehyde formed as a result of drinking alcohol as being a cause of cancer, along with alcohol itself.
Acetaldehyde also causes liver cells to grow faster than normal. These regenerating cells are more likely to pick up changes in their genes that could lead to cancer.
Ethanol is broken down mainly by the liver, but lots of other cell types can do this as well. Some of the bacteria that live in our mouths and the linings of our guts are also able to convert ethanol into acetaldehyde.
How can alcohol’s effects on oestrogen and other hormones lead to cancer?
Alcohol can increase the levels of some hormones, such as oestrogen. Hormones act as messengers in the body, giving our cells instructions such as when to divide. Unusually high levels of oestrogen increase the risk of breast cancer.
Why is it worse to both drink and smoke?
People who smoke and drink multiply the risk for certain cancers, because tobacco and alcohol work together to damage the cells of the body. For example, alcohol makes it easier for the mouth and throat to absorb the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco. This is one reason why people who drink and smoke multiply the damage they receive and have especially high risks of cancer.
Can liver damage lead to cancer?
Drinking lots of alcohol can damage the cells of the liver, causing a disease called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can make you more likely to develop liver cancer.
What about folate?
Folate is an important vitamin that helps our cells produce new DNA correctly. People who drink alcohol tend to have lower levels of folate in their blood and some studies have found that some cancers are more common in people with low folate levels. But at the moment it isn’t clear if alcohol does cause cancer in this way, or whether the amount of folate people get in their diet affects the risk from alcohol.
How else can alcohol damage DNA?
Alcohol can cause highly reactive molecules, called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), to be produced in our cells. These molecules can damage the DNA, which could cause cancer to develop.
What about possible benefits of drinking alcohol?
There have been some studies in the past that suggested drinking a little bit of alcohol may be good for heart health. But recent reviews have called these findings into question and the UK Chief Medical Officer’s review of the evidence concluded that potential benefits only apply to women aged 55 and over who drink very little (about 5 units per week). The new government guidelines clearly state that drinking for health reasons is not recommended.
Read more at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/alcohol-and-cancer/how-alcohol-causes-cancer#h27EpYHO23dcOG2d.99