Alcohol and genetic polymorphisms: effect on risk of alcohol-related cancer

Lancet Oncol. 2009 Feb;10(2):173-80. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(09)70019-1.


Public health guidelines aim to limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages worldwide and the subsequent health burden. In particular, alcohol consumption is an avoidable risk factor for cancer. In human beings, ethanol in alcoholic drinks is mainly oxidised in the liver by alcohol dehydrogenases to acetaldehyde, and is further detoxified to acetate by aldehyde dehydrogenases. Functional variants in genes involved in alcohol metabolism result in differences between individuals in exposure to carcinogenic acetaldehyde, suggesting a possible interaction of genetic susceptibility and alcohol exposure in cancer. We reviewed available studies of the combined effects of alcohol drinking and genetic polymorphisms on alcohol-related cancer risk. Most available data were for polymorphisms in alcohol and folate metabolism. We give an overview of published studies on the combined effects of alcohol drinking and polymorphisms in genes for alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), cytochrome P450 2E1, and methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase on the risk of alcohol-related cancer. Current data lend support to a role of polymorphisms ADH1B and ALDH2 combined with alcohol consumption in cancer. Other available data are insufficient or inconclusive, highlighting the need for additional studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 / genetics
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2) / genetics
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Risk Factors


  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (NADPH2)