Alcohol dehydrogenase 3 genotype and risk of oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997 Nov 19;89(22):1698-705. doi: 10.1093/jnci/89.22.1698.


Background: The consumption of alcoholic beverages is a strong risk factor for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx (oral cancers). Alcohol dehydrogenase type 3 (ADH3) metabolizes ethanol to acetaldehyde, a carcinogen. We evaluated whether individuals homozygous for the fast-metabolizing ADH3(1) allele (ADH3[1-1]) have a greater risk of developing oral cancer in the presence of alcoholic beverage consumption than those with the slow-metabolizing ADH3(2) allele (ADH3[1-2] and ADH3[2-2]).

Methods: As part of a population-based study of oral cancer conducted in Puerto Rico, the ADH3 genotypes of 137 patients with histologically confirmed oral cancer and of 146 control subjects (i.e., individuals with no history of oral cancer) were determined by molecular genetic analysis of oral epithelial cell samples. Risks were estimated by use of multiple logistic regression analyses.

Results: Compared with nondrinkers with the ADH3(1-1) genotype, consumers of at least 57 alcoholic drinks per week with the ADH3(1-1), ADH3(1-2), and ADH3(2-2) genotypes had 40.1-fold (95% confidence interval [CI] = 5.4-296.0), 7.0-fold (95% CI = 1.4-35.0), and 4.4-fold (95% CI = 0.6-33.0) increased risks of oral cancer, respectively; the risk associated with the ADH3(1-1) genotype, compared with the ADH3(1-2) and ADH3(2-2) genotypes combined, was 5.3 (95% CI = 1.0-28.8) among such drinkers. Considering all levels of alcohol consumption, the risk of oral cancer per additional alcoholic drink per week increased 3.6% (95% CI = 1.9%-5.4%) for subjects with the ADH3(1-1) genotype and 2.0% (95% CI = 0.9%-3.0%) for subjects with the ADH3(1-2) or ADH3(2-2) genotype (two-sided P = .04).

Conclusions: The ADH3(1-1) genotype appears to substantially increase the risk of ethanol-related oral cancer, thus providing further evidence for the carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA Primers
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / etiology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Risk


  • DNA Primers
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase