New Links between Alcohol, Smoking and Cancer

Tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption can expose the body to extremely high levels of carcinogens.  A recent study examined how this exposure can cause genetic alterations in the head and neck.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) are cancers that occur in the mucous membranes that line the nasal cavities, oral cavity, pharynx and larynx.  At least 75 percent of HNSCCs are attributed to smoking and/or alcohol use.

Japanese researchers studied two mutations in cancer tumor samples.  TP53 (Tumor Protein P53) is a protein-coding gene associated with adrenocortical carcinoma (cancer of the adrenal gland) and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer of the throat).  SCNAs (somatic copy number alterations) are changes to the DNA that cause deletions or duplications of chromosomes.

The researchers discovered that heavy alcohol consumption was significantly associated with SCNAs, but did not affect TP53 mutations.  Conversely, smoking was associated with increased risk of TP53 mutations, but did not cause any significant SCNAs.  These results suggest that while alcohol and smoking are both linked to HNSCCs, their specific genetic effects are distinct.

The study was conducted using an Agilent Microarray Scanner, Agilent SurePrint CGH Microarrays and Agilent GeneSpring software.

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