Tue, Nov 26, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Drinking once a week can increase cancer risk: study

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

National Health Research Institute associate researcher Chang Shu-ming, center, holds a pictographic representation of research into hypopharyngeal cancer at a news conference at the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Lin Hui-chin, Taipei Times

People who drink alcoholic drinks at least once per week are 19 times more likely to develop hypopharyngeal cancer than those who do not drink, researchers with the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) said yesterday.

Head and neck cancers — including oral, oropharyngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers — rank fourth in the 10 most common cancers among men in Taiwan, the NHRI said, adding that the main risk factors are drinking alcohol, chewing betel nuts and smoking cigarettes.

Since the implementation of the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法) in 2008, the prevalence of men who smoke cigarettes has dropped from 55.1 percent in 2008 to 26.4 percent in 2017, the NHRI said.

The cigarette-smoking and betel-nut-chewing population has significantly decreased, it added.

However, NHRI associate researcher Chang Shu-ming (張書銘) said that the prevalence of alcohol use has increased from 53.3 percent in men and 22.4 percent in women in 2002 to 71.5 percent in men and 45.7 percent in women in 2013.

The National Institute of Cancer Research’s oral cancer research team and National Cheng Kung University Hospital collaborated to study how alcohol consumption affects risk and prognosis regarding head and neck cancers.

They discovered that people who drink alcohol at least once per week, no matter whether it is beer, wine or spirits, are 1.6 more likely to develop head and neck cancers than people who do not drink, Chang said.

They are 19 times more likely to develop hypopharyngeal cancer, 3.8 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer and 1.5 times more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, he said.

People who have a mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) gene mutation or deficiency — characterized by red flushes of the face or skin after drinking alcohol — might have up to three times more chance of developing head and neck cancers, Chang said

The risk for people who have irregular ALDH2 and alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) genes could increase up to four times compared with people who do not drink, he added.

The main reason for the increased risk is because ethanol is broken down in the liver by the ADH and ALDH2 genes, and it is transformed into acetaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen, but when people have irregular ALDH2 and ADH genes, the acetaldehyde accumulates in the body, Chang said.

The ALDH2 mutation or deficiency is common in East Asia, and studies have suggested that the prevalence is as high as one in every two people in Taiwan, he said.

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