Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) in the cancer diseases

Clin Chim Acta. 2008 Sep;395(1-2):1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2008.05.001. Epub 2008 May 8.


Epidemiological data have identified chronic alcohol consumption as a significant risk factor for cancer in humans. The exact mechanism of ethanol-associated carcinogenesis has remained unknown. The metabolism of ethanol leads to generation of acetaldehyde (AA), which is highly toxic and carcinogenic. The amount of acetaldehyde to which cells or tissues are exposed after alcohol ingestion may be of great importance and may, among others, affects carcinogenesis. Ethanol is metabolized to acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). The enzyme responsible for oxidation of acetaldehyde is aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Both formation and degradation of acetaldehyde depends on the activity of these enzymes. The total alcohol dehydrogenase activity is significantly higher in cancer tissues than in this healthy organs (e.g. liver, stomach, esophagus, colorectum). Moreover the activity of ADH is much higher than the activity of ALDH. This suggests that cancer cells have a greater capability for ethanol oxidation but less ability to remove acetaldehyde than normal tissues. In addition significant differences of ADH isoenzymes activities between cancer tissues and healthy organs may be a factor intensifying carcinogenesis by the increased ability to acetaldehyde formation from ethanol and disorders in metabolism of some biologically important substances (e.g. retinoic acid). The changes in activity of particular ADH isoenzymes in the sera of patients with different cancers, seem to be caused by release of these isoenzymes from cancer cells, and may be useful for diagnostics of this cancer. The particular isoenzymes of ADH present in the serum may indicate the cancer localization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / blood
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / blood
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Isoenzymes
  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Acetaldehyde