Alcohol consumption leaves genetic marks that can cause esophageal cancer

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Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (INCA) found that alcohol leaves physical marks on the cells of the esophagus, which can cause the most frequent type of cancer in the organ, squamous cell carcinoma.

The research examined 552 genomes of esophageal cancer patients from eight countries (Brazil, China, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, United Kingdom and Tanzania) over five years.

From the material collected, which included samples of infected tissue and blood from patients, the researchers looked for the so-called “mutation signature”, which is a specific pattern of mutations in the DNA of some types of cancer.

The objective is to try to find the profile of these signatures and thus indicate which components were responsible for leading to the development of cancer in that patient.

The unprecedented study was published in the journal “Nature Genetics”. The analysis is part of the Mutographs project, led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer/World Health Organization (IARC/WHO) and the Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, which has a group of scientists from ten countries.

INCA represents Brazil and Latin America in the project, which also had the support of the Research Support Foundation of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj).

Of the total genetic structures investigated, 5.4% are Brazilian INCA patients. In the country, one of the most known risk factors for the disease is the consumption of alcohol, followed by the use of tobacco and drinks at high temperatures, such as chimarrão.

According to Luis Felipe Ribeiro Pinto, head of the Molecular Carcinogenesis Program and research coordinator at INCA, the observation of these signatures shows a relationship between certain habits or environmental exposures and cancer.

“One known case is lung cancer, in which this kind of genetic mark is caused by tobacco. What we observed and was proven in this analysis is that alcohol leaves a specific trail in esophageal tumors. However, we will continue carrying out other studies, with new samples, seeking to investigate the marks of other known agents”, explains Luis Felipe.


One more factor observed in the research is premature aging, which can be directly associated with the low human development index of the researched groups.

“In other words, in addition to factors already highlighted, such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, the common factor behind the signatures observed in these cancers seems to be the low socioeconomic level”, explains researcher Sheila Lima.

For the specialist, based on this type of analysis, it is possible to work more precisely on primary prevention and prevent the disease from developing.

Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common type in the world and the sixth with the highest mortality, according to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Most cases occur in low- and middle-income countries.

In Brazil, the disease is the sixth most incident, according to INCA data. The South and Southeast regions have the highest incidence, with an estimated risk of 14.48 and 9.53 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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