Drinking Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk by Causing Irreversible DNA Damage

Alcohol damages DNA, increases cancer risk - study

According to Prof. Patel, cells also have a second line of defence - a range of DNA repair systems which can fix and reverse different types of DNA damage.

The research, using genetically modified mice, provides the most compelling evidence to date that alcohol causes cancer by scrambling the DNA in cells, eventually leading to deadly mutations.

But what they didn't understand until now, was that this is because drinking actually damages the DNA blueprint in your stem cells. Bits of DNA were deleted, bits were broken and we even saw parts of chromosomes being moved about and rearranged. The mice in the study did not get cancer, but their stem cells stopped working to produce new blood cells. "While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage".

Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a stem cell biologist at the University of Cambridge, said the findings were very important:"This is handsome work which puts our finger on the molecular basis for the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells", she said.

Alcohol is known to cause seven types of cancer: mouth, upper throat, laryngeal, oesophageal, breast, liver and bowel. But when a person consumes too much alcohol in one sitting, the body slowly loses its ability to efficiently metabolise the acetaldehyde, the team found. This enabled Juan to uncover the genetic changes caused by the aldehydes in the damaged stem cells.

They found that the rodents deficient in ALDH2 had four times the DNA damage in their cells compared with the control mice with normal levels of the enzyme.

Our bodies already have a line of defense against the potentially unsafe acetaldehyde in the form of a group of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH), which break it down as soon as it is formed.

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Our new research explains how alcohol damages DNA in our vital stem cells. The problem is, millions of people, especially those from South East Asia, either lack these enzymes or carry faulty versions of them.

The study has basically built previous work that had pinpointed a break-down product of alcohol, called acetaldehyde, as a toxin that can damage the DNA within cells.

Scientists from Cancer Research UK warned in 2016 that alcohol would cause around 135,000 cancer deaths over the next two decades, and that by 2035, the UK could see 7,097 cancer deaths linked to drinking every year. When we genetically remove both protection mechanisms in mice, they become hugely prone to alcohol induced DNA damage.

In the study, scientists gave the animals diluted alcohol before looking at their DNA to study the effects of drinking. It is possible that the body's defence mechanisms against acetaldehyde are weaker in other tissues.

Professor Linda Bauld of the organisation said: "This thought-provoking research highlights the damage alcohol can do to our cells - costing some people more than just a hangover".

Since alcohol contributes to an estimated 12,000 annual cancer cases in the country, they contend, the study is further proof that most should cut back on how much they indulge.

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