Alcohol 'can damage DNA and elevate risk of cancer'

Scientific Developments/Breakthroughs

A new study has shed light on how drinking alcohol increases a person's risk of cancer by causing damage at a DNA level.

Led by the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and funded by Cancer Research UK, the study saw mice given alcohol before chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing were used to examine the genetic damage caused.

“Drinking alcohol can damage DNA in stem cells and increase a person's risk of cancer, according to a new study.“

Specifically, they looked at acetaldehyde, a harmful chemical produced when the body processes alcohol. It was found that acetaldehyde broke and caused damage to DNA within blood stem cells, leading to chromosomes being rearranged and DNA sequences being permanently altered.

This finding offers an insight into why drinking alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of developing seven types of cancer, including common variants such as breast and bowel cancer.

Study leader Professor Ketan Patel, at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: "Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells. While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage."

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