Alcohol causes cancer, proves a brand new genetic study tracking 150,000 Chinese participants for 11 years. The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer last month.
The science showing that alcohol causes cancer is unimpeachable and has gotten ever stronger since 1988. According to a global study published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet, alcohol caused over 740,000 cancer cases, worldwide in 2020. This translates to 4% of all cancers or one in 25 cancers being caused by alcohol.
That study further established that no level of alcohol consumption is safe. While most cancers were caused by heavy (47%) or high-risk (39%) alcohol use, even low-risk alcohol use led to cancer 14% of the time.
A previous study published in 2018 by researchers from Cambridge University showed how acetaldehyde which is a toxic molecule produced when the body metabolizes alcohol harms DNA. The latest study by Pek Kei Im and colleagues build on those findings to show how alcohol directly causes cancer.
Latest study: “alcohol directly causes cancer”
The new study on 150,000 Chinese participants aimed to answer the question how alcohol causes cancer. The researchers used a new approach to investigate alcohol and cancer risk by focusing on gene variants known to be associated with lower levels of alcohol consumption.
Two common genetic variants are known to reduce a person’s tolerability to alcohol. These are called ALDH2-rs671 and ADH1B-rs1229984. These genetic variants decrease a person’s ability to breakdown acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule produced when the body metabolizes alcohol. Previous studies have indicated that the presence of these genetic variants prove as a good measure for how much alcohol a person would consume. Since those with the mutations generally find the effects of alcohol very unpleasant, they reduce their intake.
The researchers analyzed genetic data from 150,000 Chinese subjects. The cohort completed several surveys outlining their alcohol use habits, and their general health records were followed for over a decade.
Consistent with previous studies, the new research found that among the participants those with the genetic variants for low alcohol tolerance consumed less alcohol, compared with those who did not have the variant.
The researchers found that those who did have the genetic variants and thus, lower alcohol consumption rates, had between 13% to 31% lower risk of cancer.
In particular, cancers previously known to be caused by alcohol, such as head and neck, oesophagus, colon, rectum and liver, were detected in high rates in those using more alcohol.
Furthermore, the study found that the participants who had even one of the genetic variants and consumed more alcohol had significantly higher rates of head and neck cancers and oesophageal cancers.
These findings indicate that alcohol directly causes several types of cancer,” said Pek Kei Im, lead researcher of the study, as per New Atlas.Pek Kei Im, lead researcher
Chinese government acknowledged the alcohol-cancer link
Last year, the Chinese government acknowledged the alcohol-cancer link in an article published by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The study in the Lancet by Rumgay and colleagues found that China had a larger alcohol-related cancer burden than the global average.
282,300 cancer cases in China, or 6% of all cancers in the country, were caused by alcohol.
Despite the rising alcohol harm in the country, China has not yet developed modern, fit-for-purpose alcohol policies. There is no written national policy, minimum age for alcohol purchase, or regulations for on- and off-premise sale. Marketing is weakly regulated, only for advertising and not for sponsorships or promotions.
Much can be done better in China and worldwide to use alcohol policy solutions as effective tools for cancer prevention.
For further reading
Movendi International Page: Alcohol and Cancer
New Atlas: “Alcohol consumption can directly cause cancer, new genetic study finds“
New Atlas: “741,000 new cancer cases linked to alcohol consumption, study estimates“
Wiley Online Library: “Alcohol metabolism genes and risks of site-specific cancers in Chinese adults: An 11-year prospective study“