Alcohol-induced breast cancer: a proposed mechanism

Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Feb;26(3-4):348-54. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(98)00204-4.


Alcohol consumption increases the risk for breast cancer in women by still undefined means. Alcohol metabolism is known to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), and breast cancer is associated with high levels of hydroxyl radical (*OH) modified DNA, point mutations, single strand nicks, and chromosome rearrangement. Furthermore, ROS modification of DNA can produce the mutations and DNA damage found in breast cancer. Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and xanthine oxidoreductase (XOR) are expressed and regulated in breast tissues and aldehyde oxidase (AOX) may be present as well. Mammary gland XOR is an efficient source of ROS. Recently, hepatic XOR and AOX were found to generate ROS in two ways from alcohol metabolism: by acetaldehyde consumption and by the intrinsic NADH oxidase activity of both XOR and AOX. The data obtained suggests that: (1) expression of ADH and XOR or AOX in breast tissue provides the enzymes that generate ROS; (2) metabolism of alcohol produces acetaldehyde and NADH that can both be substrates for XOR or AOX and thereby result in ROS formation; and (3) ROS generated by XOR or AOX can induce the carcinogenic mutations and DNA damage found in breast cancer. Accumulation of iron coupled with diminished antioxidant defenses in breast tissue with advancing age provide additional support for this hypothesis because both result in elevated ROS damage that may exacerbate the risk for ROS-induced breast cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • DNA Damage*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Xanthine Dehydrogenase / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Xanthine Dehydrogenase