Exploring relationship between alcohol consumption and development of cancer

Posted on October 12th, 2016 in Addiction, cancer

Exploring relationship between alcohol consumption and development of cancer

Alcohol is the most easily available addictive in the markets globally. While the selling of illicit drugs is illegal, alcohol is readily available in licensed liquor shops. Hence, developing alcohol addiction is much easier and common than any other substance. Though hazards of alcohol and its effects on liver are widely known, there is very little knowledge about the cancer-causing potential of alcohol.

According to a study published in the scientific journal Addiction in July 2016, alcohol consumption has a close relation with the risk of developing cancer at seven different sites in the body, including oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. Even moderate consumption of alcohol has a considerable risk for cancer, said the study.

How does alcohol cause cancer?

All types of consumable alcohol primarily contain ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol. When consumed, the body’s natural metabolizing process breaks ethanol into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic carcinogenic chemical. Acetaldehyde has the potential to cause harm to the body, damaging the DNA and essential proteins.

Further, alcohol tends to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which also has the tendency to damage DNA, proteins, as well as lipids present in the body. Additionally, alcohol also impairs the body’s capability to break down the nutrient and absorb them, thereby increasing the risk for various types of cancer.

Moreover, alcohol has the potential to increase blood levels of estrogen, the sex hormone responsible for female attributes and traits, which is often the prime factor responsible for causing breast cancer.

Role of genetics in alcohol-related cancer

Studies have suggested genes having a role in developing cancer in people who drink moderate-to-heavy alcohol.

As per the 2013 report by the National Cancer Institute, published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), genes that encode enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol influence the risk of alcohol-related cancers. For instance, people in China, Korea, and Japan are more prone to developing pancreatic cancer as they tend to carry a version of the gene for super-active alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), an enzyme. The presence of this version speeds up the conversion of ethanol into toxic acetaldehyde, and hence, even a decent amount of alcohol consumption can produce large quantities of acetaldehyde.

Similarly, esophageal cancer, as well as cancer of the head and neck are common in people of East Asian descent who drink alcohol, due to the presence of variant of the gene for ALDH2. This gene codes for a defective form of the enzyme. Therefore, in a person, who is a carrier of the gene, alcohol consumption would lead to higher accumulation of acetaldehyde, thereby causing harms such as facial flushing and heart palpitations.

Can quitting alcohol help reduce cancer risk?

Many people believe that by reducing or curtailing alcohol consumption, they can produce an immediate effect on cancer. But studies have demonstrated that there is no link between quitting alcohol and reduction in cancer risk. For example, there is generally a very slow reversal in case of risk for esophageal cancer, while cancers of the head and neck remained unchanged.

Moreover, several studies showed that even after quitting alcohol for at least 15 years, the risk of esophageal cancer did not reach the level of never-drinkers. But it is always better to avoid health risks. Since alcohol has the potential to trigger acute health problems, it is wiser to stay away from it and not get addicted.

Seek help to prevent cancer development

If you or your loved one is battling alcoholism, seek medical help immediately.  When left untreated, even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to heavy drinking which, in turn, can cause cancer. The Arizona Alcohol Addiction Helpline can help you find the best alcohol addiction treatment centers in Arizona. Chat online with one of our experts today, or call at 866-671-1510 for more information on alcohol addiction treatment clinics in Arizona.

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