Researchers have pinpointed a pair of gene variants that seem to protect their carriers against head and neck cancers linked to alcohol consumption. The variants are of genes that encode alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzymes, which catalyse the breakdown of alcohols into aldehydes.
Paul Brennan at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, and his colleagues analysed six ADH variants in 3,876 patients with head and neck cancers and 5,278 healthy people. A variant of each of the two genes ADH1B and ADH7 seemed to lower the risk of developing these cancers in alcohol drinkers, most dramatically in heavy drinkers. Carriers of the ADH1B variant metabolize alcohol up to 100 times faster than non-carriers.