Drinking, Aging, and Cancer

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Today’s issue of Cancer Research Update reports on an interesting new study about how our friends and family have a lot to do with our alcohol habits. It looks like who we socialize with – our social network up to three degrees of separation – influence if we drink heavily or nothing.

Our chromosomes: the lit up regions are telomeres.

For cancer prevention, along with other chronic diseases, the amount of alcohol people drink is important. AICR’s expert report found that drinking any amount of alcohol increases the risk for cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and breast, and colorectal (in men): The more we drink; the higher the risk.

Today, at the American Association for Cancer Research annual conference, researchers presented a study that may help explain why. It has to do with the sections of DNA at the end of a chomosome, called telomeres. Scientists know that as we age, telomeres get shorter and shorter until the cell dies. Also, shorter telomeres are linked with increased cancer risk.

The new study found that telomere length was significantly shorter among a group of heavy drinks (22 percent consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day) than those of a comparison group. You can read the release here.

There’s a lot of research with telomeres and cancer, and this is only one of many possible ways alcohol leads to cancer development. Eventually, scientists will know the mechanisms behind why alcohol raises cancer risk; for now the one thing the science shows is that it does.

Because there is evidence that small amounts of alcohol may protect against heart disease, AICR’s recommends that if you do drink alcohol, men have no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one drink a day.

You can read more about alcohol and cancer risk here.

What do you think about the new study on alcohol and our social network? Do you have similar alcohol drinking habits as your friends and family?


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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