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Variations in Gene DNA Boost Drinkers' Cancer Risk

Changes to 2 alcohol-metabolizing enzymes are responsible, study says

FRIDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Variations in the DNA of certain genes can increase the risk of cancer in people who drink alcohol, according to researchers who reviewed studies on alcohol consumption, genetic polymorphisms and cancer.

Their analysis suggests that such variations, called gene polymorphisms, in two enzymes -- alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) -- involved in metabolizing alcohol significantly increase alcohol drinkers' risk of cancers of the head and neck and the esophagus.

The researchers looked at the effect of gene variations in other enzymes involved in alcohol and folate metabolism but found there wasn't enough data to fully assess the effect of those gene variants on cancer risk.

They said that currently available data does not allow for a quantitative evaluation by meta-analysis of the link between gene variations and cancer risk in people who drink alcohol.

"We have highlighted the need for large, multicenter studies and for approaches to the study of multiple polymorphisms," wrote Dr. Nathalie Druesne-Pecollo and colleagues at the French National Institute of Agronomical Research.

The review was published in the February issue of the The Lancet Oncology.

Previous research has shown a clear link between alcohol consumption and health risk, according to background information in the review. Recent figures show that drinking alcohol was a major contributing factor in the development of almost 400,000 cancers worldwide in 2002. In that same year, 323,900 cancer deaths (3.6 percent of all cancer deaths) were alcohol-related.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet Oncology, news release, Jan. 30, 2009

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