Mapping the Link Between Alcohol, Cancer

How it affects tumor cells is becoming less of a mystery, study finds.

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TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that alcohol may boost the progression of cancer by stimulating a pathway inside cells.

The findings could have meaning for the prevention and treatment of cancer, which has been linked to alcohol use in some cases. In particular, scientists suspect that alcohol is connected to colon and breast cancer, although it's not known exactly how.

A new study, published online in advance of the January 2010 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, says that a pathway known as the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) could play a role in the process in which cancer cells affected by alcohol grow and spread.

"Alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of several cancers, including cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and, in women, the breast," study co-author Christopher B. Forsyth, an assistant professor of medicine and biochemistry at Rush University Medical Center, said in a news release from Rush. "We also suspect an association with cancers of the pancreas and lung. However, the mechanisms by which alcohol increases the risk for these cancers have not been established. EMT is an active area of cancer research and growing evidence supports a role for EMT during cancer progression and metastases for several cancer types but previously not for alcohol-associated cancers."

The researchers made their findings after studying four alcoholic men and four healthy men.

"Our data are the first to show that alcohol turns on cell signals as well as biomarkers characteristic of EMT in cancer cells," Forsyth said. "We also show alcohol turns on the EMT pathway in non-cancer intestinal cells, thus supporting a possible role for alcohol stimulation of EMT in cancer initiation. Thus, our study supports a possible new mechanism through which alcohol may promote cancer progression by stimulating EMT. This now provides a new target for therapeutic intervention for treatment of alcohol-related cancers and for prevention of alcohol-related cancer metastasis."

More information

Learn more about cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCE: Rush University Medical Center, news release, Oct. 26, 2009

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