Though the links are established, exactly how alcohol works to induce malignancy is not as well-understood. Several mechanisms are thought to be at work.
Most previous studies have only examined cells in the laboratory, looking at changes in them after exposure to alcohol (ethanol).
Recently, researchers from MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, set out to gain a clearer picture of the alcohol-cancer relationship using whole animals.
Their study, which was funded by Cancer Research U.K., is published this week in the journal Nature.
The team fed diluted ethanol to mice and then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to measure any damage caused by acetaldehyde, a chemical produced when alcohol is processed. They focused their attention on a specific cell type: blood stem cells.
Blood stem cells, found in blood and bone marrow, are immature blood cells that can develop into any type of blood cell, including white blood cells, platelets, and red blood cells. It is important to understand how alcohol damages these cells, as faulty stem cells are known to cause cancer.
As alcohol is broken down in the gut, bacteria convert it into large quantities of acetaldehyde, a chemical that has previously been shown to cause cancer in animals.
Source: Cancer Research UK publish in Nature Journal