Alcohol metabolism and oesophageal cancer: a systematic review of the evidence

Carcinogenesis. 2017 Sep 1;38(9):859-872. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgx067.


Alcohol is a major risk factor for oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), the most prevalent histological subtype of oesophageal cancer (OC) worldwide. The metabolism of alcohol is regulated by specific enzymes whose activity and expression is influenced by genetic polymorphisms. We conducted a systematic review of current epidemiological evidence of the relationship between alcohol intake and OC risk, including the role of tobacco smoking and functional polymorphisms of alcohol dehydrogenases (ADHs) and aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs). Potential biological mechanisms underlying oesophageal carcinogenesis are also discussed. Frequency and intensity of alcohol intake have been consistently associated with an increased risk of OSCC in regions with low and high incidence of the disease. The highest risk was reported among tobacco smokers, whereas the association between alcohol and OSCC risk was weak in the absence of tobacco use. The ADH1B, ADH1C and ALDH2 gene polymorphisms influence the risk of OSCC through modulation of acetaldehyde metabolism and propensity to alcohol intake. These functional variants may be suitable proxies of alcohol exposure for use in Mendelian randomization studies if complemented by reported alcohol intake data. Recent epidemiological and experimental studies investigating the role of alcohol consumption in OC development have implicated the microbiome as a new promising avenue for research, which entail novel potential mechanisms of alcohol-related oesophageal carcinogenesis. Microbial communities associated with alcohol consumption might be used as biomarkers to raise the potential of intervening among susceptible individuals.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism*
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Acetaldehyde