Gene mutations that up cancer risk from alcohol found

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Washington: Mutations in two hereditary genes increase cancer risk from alcohol, a new study has found.

Scientists have shown that people carrying certain mutations in two hereditary cancer genes, BRCA2 and PALB2, may have a higher than usual susceptibility to DNA damage caused by a byproduct of alcohol, called acetaldehyde, which can lead to cancer.

When the genes function correctly, BRCA2 and PALB2 bind to each other to repair DNA damage. Mutations in the genes disable their DNA?repairing capability and make carriers more susceptible to cancer, the researchers said.

While the scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, caution that the research is preliminary, they say their findings suggest that studies on disease risk factors should take into account these particular genetic variations and the use of alcohol.

"We need to identify which behaviours in certain populations increase disease risk, and keep in mind that our genetic susceptibility plays a large role in cancer risk," said Professor Scott Kern.

Acetaldehyde is produced during the metabolism of alcohol and is known to cause DNA damage. Scientists say the chemical is ubiquitous in nature, found in many sources, including apples and gut bacteria, and is responsible for the "hangovers" people experience after heavy alcohol use.

Alcohol use has long been linked to cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract, breast, pancreas and stomach.

Kern and his team took a closer look at the growth response of cells exposed to acetaldehyde and other compounds.

The team created human cell lines that lacked BRCA2 and PALB2 genes.

The scientists found that BRCA2 and PALB2-mutant cell lines exposed to acetaldehyde had up to 25 times more growth reduction when compared with related cells lacking these mutations.

The significant reduction in cell growth indicates that these cell lines, which lack the two genes, are susceptible to the DNA damage caused by acetaldehyde, said scientists.

They suggest that the DNA-damaging effects of acetaldehyde exposure in people lacking these genes may accelerate cancer growth.

Kern and his team estimated that the BRCA2 and PALB2 genes, when they function normally, protect cells against up to 96 per cent of the toxicity associated with acetaldehyde.

The study was published in the American Journal of Pathology.