Page last updated: Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Study suggests that ethanol is the causal factor in alcohol related breast cancer

A study from Germany carried out a case-control comparison of the association between alcohol and breast cancer according to genetic variations affecting levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that clears alcohol from the blood stream.  The authors conclude that genetic factors associated with the slow clearance of alcohol are associated with increased risk of breast cancer for drinkers; an increase in cancer risk was not seen for drinkers with genetic factors leading to fast clearance of alcohol.  Such a finding would suggest that alcohol itself is the cause of an increase in breast cancer risk among drinkers.  Unfortunately, some previous studies have shown the opposite, that an increase in breast cancer risk occurs only among women who have genes associated with fast, rather than slow, alcohol metabolism.  As of now, it is unclear the degree to which genes affecting alcohol dehydrogenase may modify the association between alcohol and breast cancer risk.
Professor R Curtis Ellison comments: Unfortunately, these results are different from some other papers on the topic.  For example, Frendenheim et al reported that subjects with AHD3 genotypes that lead to fast clearance of alcohol had higher risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption; a similar finding was reported by Terry et al .  On the other hand, Strümer et al found that drinking women with ADH 2 phenotypes associated with slow clearance of alcohol had higher risk of breast cancer.  A recent study from Japan by Kawase T, et al found no statistically significant association between genetic factors leading to slow or fast metabolism of alcohol and risk of breast cancer.
Overall, we believe that the scientific data are inconclusive as to the effects of genetic factors affecting the rate of alcohol metabolism on the risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol.  While studies such as this one may help scientists understand the mechanisms by which alcohol may relate to breast cancer risk, a clear message to the public on this topic is not yet possible.

Source: Benzon Larsen S, Vogel U, Christensen J, Hansen RD, Wallin H, Overvad K,   Tjønneland A, Tolstrup I. Interaction between ADH1C Arg272Gln and alcohol intake in relation to breast cancer risk suggests that ethanol is the causal factor in alcohol related breast cancer.   Cancer Letters, 2010, in press.

 

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