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Gene Found That Limits Risks of Alcohol

Gene Found That Limits Risks of Alcohol

A new study reveals that as many as one in four Britons have a much-reduced risk of developing alcohol related cancers.

Researchers have identified two genes responsible for reducing the carcinogenic effect of alcohol. A study of 9000 Britons suggests as many as one in four citizens are half as likely to develop cancer due to alcohol consumption.

The genes involved are rare versions of ADH7 and ADH1B. The ADH group of genes helps the body to process alcohol. Everybody carries two versions of each of these genes, one inherited from each parent.

gene found that limits risks of alcohol Gene Found That Limits Risks of Alcohol

Research shows around 15 to 20% of the UK population have the ADH7 gene and around 5% have the rarer ADH1B variation. Those who carry the ADH7 gene have a 32% reduced risk of developing cancers associated with drinking, while those who carry the ADH1B variation have half the risk of developing such cancers.

This is first time researchers have pinned down the genes that have a protective effect against alcohol but the full explanation behind the process remains a mystery. Professor Martin Wiseman, a medical and scientific advisor to the World Cancer Research Fund said,
,blockquote>”We don’t know how the protection occurs, but we do now know that these genes have that effect, and that could be hugely useful in giving us a much broader understanding of cancer processes in general.”

Alcohol is one of the major causes of cancer, along with smoking and diet. An estimated 5% of all new cancer cases diagnosed each year is thought to be the result of alcohol abuse. Experts say that convincing evidence directly links alcohol to cancers of the mouth, breast, bowel, liver, pharynx, larynx and oesophagus.

Dr Paul Brennan, the researcher who led the study at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, said:

“Every human being has the seven [ADH] genes that, when you drink a beer or whisky, start to break down the ethanol in the alcohol which many believe is the cancer-causing agent. But those 20 to 25 per cent of people who have one or both are gene variants – if they drink alcohol, their risk of getting these head and neck cancers is reduced by about half.”

Health experts welcomed the new findings but warned they should not be interpreted as a reason to start, or continue drinking heavily. Professor Wiseman said,

“This shouldn’t have any direct effect on people’s drinking behaviour. Those people with one or both of these rare gene variants are lucky in that they are at lesser risk of developing these cancers. Having up to half the risk is significant,
“But they still face some risk. So the advice to them wouldn’t be, ‘Go away and drink’. It would be, ‘For cancer prevention, avoid alcohol entirely if you can and, if you do drink, limit it to one drink a day for a woman and two drinks a day for a man’.”

The majority of those who carry such preventative genes would not know it, as a family doctor cannot tell and there is no reliable test to tell someone their genetic make-up that can be easily accessed, Wiseman added.

Nevertheless, researchers hope the new discovery will lead to the advanced development of drugs that might mitigate the damaging effects of alcohol consumption. And while the study offers good news for just a quarter of the population, it also provides further evidence on how drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

Dr Julie Sharp, science information manager at Cancer Research UK said,

“This adds to existing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of these types of cancer. It also highlights that both our genes and our lifestyle influence cancer risk and will help scientists understand more about the disease.”

However, Sharp still warned that,

“It’s important to stress that these results don’t mean that people can drink too much and hope they won’t be at risk. These genetic variants are rare and still don’t protect people totally from the damage caused by alcohol””


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