Alcohol 'flush' signals cancer risk

March 24, 2009 at 12:09 AM
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BETHESDA, Md., March 24 (UPI) -- A red flushing facial response from drinking alcohol may signal a genetic susceptibility to esophageal cancer risk, U.S. and Japanese researchers said.

"It is very important for clinicians who treat patients of East Asian descent to be aware of the risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption in their patients who exhibit the alcohol flushing response, so they can counsel them about limiting their drinking," Kenneth R. Warren, acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said in a statement.

Heavy alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk for esophageal cancer among such individuals, who comprise about 8 percent of the world's population, Warren said.

First author Philip J. Brooks, of NIAAA's Laboratory of Neurogenetics, and colleagues note that a clinician can reliably determine whether a patient is at risk simply by asking about previous episodes of facial flushing after drinking alcohol.

"Cancer of the esophagus is particularly deadly, with five-year survival rates ranging from 12 (percent) to 31 percent throughout the world," Brooks said. "We estimate that at least 540 million people have this alcohol-related increased risk for esophageal cancer, and we hope that, by raising awareness of this important public health problem, affected individuals who drink will reduce their cancer risk by limiting their alcohol consumption."

The review appears in the journal PLoS Medicine.

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