Research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) indicates that the consumption of alcoholic beverages increases the risk of upper gastrointestinal cancer. The study appears in the journal Nucleic Acids Research.
The basis for a link between alcohol and gastrointestinal cancer, according to researchers P.J. Brooks, Ph.D., of NIAAA and Miral Dizdaroglu, Ph.D., of NIST, is that acetaldehyde, a possible carcinogen, is formed as the body metabolizes alcohol.
According to Ting-Kai Li, M.D., director of the NIAAA (part of the National Institutes of Health): "We’ve long suspected acetaldehyde’s role in the carcinogenicity of alcohol beverage consumption, but this study gives us important new clues about its involvement."
Dr. Li went on to state: "This work provides an important framework for understanding the underlying chemical pathway that could explain the association between drinking and certain types of cancer."
Acetaldehyde reacts with polyamines (natural compounds essential for cell growth) converting them into harmful crotonaldehyde (CrA), an environmental pollutant shown to cause cancer in animals. CrA appears to cause damage by creating mutagenic DNA called Cr-PdG adduct.
Although previous studies have considered the conversion of acetaldehyde to Cr-PdG using high concentrations of acetaldehyde, the new research showed that very low concentrations of the substance, similar to the amount found in saliva during alcohol consumption, were actually needed for the reaction to take place. In order to measure the levels of Cr-PdG adduct, NIST developed a new method of chemical analysis that can be relied on in the future.
Experts believe the research will help establish a foundation for considering the role genes play in the development of cancer. George Kunos, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIAAA’s Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research, stated: "This work could serve as a roadmap for future studies to investigate other genetic factors, particularly those that influence DNA repair pathways, in relation to alcohol consumption and cancer.