Drinking alcohol causes cancer by 'damaging DNA'

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New research shows how alcohol damages DNA in stem cells, helping to explain why drinking increases your risk of cancer.

A recent study has revealed that alcoholism damages DNA, which can increases the individual's likelihood of cancer.

"Drinking alcohol damages blood * a class="glink tt_basic" href="/page_1716.asp" rel="*page.asp?obj_id=1716&cAct=SIMP" *stem cells by altering their * a class="glink tt_basic" href="/page_1676.asp" rel="*page.asp?obj_id=1676&cAct=SIMP" *DNA, raising the risk of developing cancer, scientists have found.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention, said: "This thought-provoking research highlights the damage alcohol can do to our cells, costing some people more than just a hangover".

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To find out how it damages the body, scientists gave diluted alcohol to mice then sequenced their DNA and analysed their chromosomes. However, if more alcohol is consumed than the ALDH2 can deal with, then excess acetaldehyde can damage DNA.

"It is important to understand how the DNA blueprint within stem cells is damaged because when healthy stem cells become faulty, they can give rise to cancer".

Health watchdogs have long warned that alcohol consumption contributes to seven types of cancer - of the mouth, throat, larynx or voice box, oesophagus or food pipe, breast, liver and bowel. While in some cases the damage occurs naturally, research indicates a awful truth: "Damage begins to occur when an individual consumes alcohol regularly".

In the study, when mice lacking a critical ALDH enzyme were given alcohol, their DNA suffered four times as damage compared with mice with a properly functioning version of the enzyme.

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"While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage". The first line of defence is a family of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH). The body does produce certain enzymes which can help in the process of breaking down acetaldehyde, and thus mitigating the damage it causes to one's DNA. 'This paper provides very strong evidence that an alcohol metabolite causes DNA damage [including] to the all-important stem cells that go on to make tissues'. But they don't always work and some people carry mutations which mean their cells aren't able to carry out these repairs effectively.

"It's important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not flawless, and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways - even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact", Patel said.

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

A study published in 2011 found that alcohol is responsible for around 4 percent of all cancer in Britain - equating to around 12,800 cases a year.

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