Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for the development of certain types of cancer. However, understanding why that might be has remained elusive. Now, Silvia Balbo suggests that a new study could have implications for hundreds of millions of drinkers of Asian descent. Balbo works with cancer prevention expert Stephen Hecht at the University of Minnesota. Speaking at the 244thNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, she explained how acetaldehyde formed by natural metabolism of the ethanol from alcoholic beverages causes damage to DNA. “Acetaldehyde attaches to DNA in humans - to the genetic material that makes up genes - in a way that results in the formation of a ‘DNA adduct.’ It’s acetaldehyde that latches onto DNA and interferes with DNA activity in a way linked to an increased risk of cancer,” she said. One in three people of Asian descent, which includes Native Americans and Native Alaskans have a variant on the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which otherwise converts acetaldehyde to the relatively harmless acetate, meaning they have a greater risk of esophageal cancer.
Alcohol and cancer