Why alcohol causes cancer?
There are a number of biological mechanisms that may explain alcohol's contribution to cancer development.
- Ethanol may cause cancer through the formation of acetaldehyde, its most toxic metabolite.
- Acetaldehyde has mutagenic and carcinogenic properties, and bonds with DNA to increase the risk of DNA mutations and impaired cell replication.
- Ethanol may also cause direct tissue damage by irritating the epithelium and increasing the absorption of carcinogens through its effects as a solvent.
- In addition, alcohol can increase the level of hormones such as oestrogen, thereby increasing breast cancer risk, and increase the risk of liver cancer by causing cirrhosis of the liver, increased oxidative stress, altered methylation and reduced levels of retinoic acid.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor oral hygiene, and certain nutrient deficiencies (folate, vitamin B6, methyl donors) or excesses (vitamin A/ Beta carotene), owing to poor diet or self-medication, may also increase the risk for alcohol-associated tumours.
The effect of alcohol is different in men and women.
If you are a woman drinking alcohol contributes to the risk of cancers of the pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, colorectum and breasts (based on 25g per day)
In men, there is a low risk of lung cancer, stomach, colon and rectum. A medium risk in the oesophagus, the larynx and liver and a higher risk in the oral cavity.