Acetaldehyde and gastric cancer

J Dig Dis. 2011 Apr;12(2):51-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-2980.2011.00480.x.


Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) and alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) gene polymorphisms associating with enhanced acetaldehyde exposure and markedly increased cancer risk in alcohol drinkers provide undisputable evidence for acetaldehyde being a local carcinogen not only in esophageal but also in gastric cancer. Accordingly, acetaldehyde associated with alcoholic beverages has recently been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans. Microbes are responsible for the bulk of acetaldehyde production from ethanol both in saliva and Helicobacter pylori-infected and achlorhydric stomach. Acetaldehyde is the most abundant carcinogen in tobacco smoke and it readily dissolves into saliva during smoking. Many foodstuffs and 'non-alcoholic' beverages are important but unrecognized sources of local acetaldehyde exposure. The cumulative cancer risk associated with increasing acetaldehyde exposure suggests the need for worldwide screening of the acetaldehyde levels of alcoholic beverages and as well of the ethanol and acetaldehyde of food produced by fermentation. The generally regarded as safe status of acetaldehyde should be re-evaluated. The as low as reasonably achievable principle should be applied to the acetaldehyde of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and food. Risk groups with ADH-and ALDH2 gene polymorphisms, H. pylori infection or achlorhydric atrophic gastritis, or both, should be screened and educated in this health issue. L-cysteine formulations binding carcinogenic acetaldehyde locally in the stomach provide new means for intervention studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Stomach Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / genetics


  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Acetaldehyde